Col Antonio Medica is a state-approved drug baron. At the dauntingly named Military Pharmaceutical Plant in Florence, the colonel grows 100kg (220lb) of cannabis a year.
The crop itself is guarded in the depths of the plant by a series of locked doors. All visitors must wear protective clothing and face masks.
Just inside a final heavy door, a line of tape on the ground warns visitors not to go in any further. Beyond the line, several dozen rows of cannabis plants are flanked by lamps and fans.
Italy’s logic is simple: in this country, medical marijuana is legal. It is prescribed for pain relief to patients with cancer or multiple sclerosis.
The country has decided that it needs a reliable source of raw cannabis in order to make the medical product. Who better to grow it – and guard it – than the army?
It is slightly unusual to see a cannabis crop, normally the target of government action, being cared for by the state itself.
“[When the project began in 2014] we weren’t familiar with the cultivation of this crop,” the colonel admits.
But the army quickly got the hang of it. One soldier checks the plants with a magnifying glass. He wears a shirt with the official title “Master Grower” (a job title which must get quite a response at parties).