The Italian parliament Monday voted final approval for a new drug law that reimposes sanctions for marijuana smokers and erases the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drug users. The law could subject pot smokers to loss of their drivers' licenses and passports, as well as involuntary drug treatment. As DRCNet reported last week, the bill calls for prison sentences of six to 20 years for drug offenses, including possession, although people caught in possession of very small quantities of drugs -- the amount is yet to be determined -- would not face jail time.
Early indications are that the government will try to set thresholds so low (a fifth of a gram of heroin, half a gram of cocaine) that many drug consumers will find themselves facing harsh prison sentences. Similarly, marijuana users could find themselves labeled "drug addicts" and forced into treatment over small quantities of the weed. The bill will also allow private drug treatment clinics to certify users as "addicts," an ability previously limited to the government. And tourists caught with a single joint or Ecstasy tablet could have their passports seized.
"We are very satisfied with this law and will provide the completing tables as soon as possible in order to immediately profit from its positive effects," said Minister for Parliamentary Relations Carlo Giovanardi. "No restrictive penal sanctions for consumers, they'll only have to face administrative sanctions. Therefore all the controversy on imprisonment is absolutely unfounded. Obviously there are severe measures for drug dealers."
The argument that the law could send small-time drug possessors to prison is false, Giovanardi said. "That is an enormous lie. Joint-smokers risk that their families are alerted by the police chief. It begins with a joint but we know that there are many young people in rehabilitation centres who started with a joint and ended up consuming cocaine and heroin."
But Giovanardi is getting ahead of himself. The quantities that determine personal use levels have not been set, and small-time drug users could still face prison.
Italy's drug laws were relaxed in 1993, and this turn around was engineered by post-fascist politician Gianfranco Fini, a key lieutenant in the rightist government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. With Italy facing elections this spring, opposition politicians are vowing that undoing the new law will be one of their first acts if they win power.
Italian anti-prohibitionists weren't waiting for elections to signal their displeasure. More than 200 people gathered in front of parliament for a protest smoke-in and to urge President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi not to sign them into law. But there is no indication he will heed that request.