Europe: Italy Sets Quantity Guidelines for Tough New Drug Law 4/7/06

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The Italian government has set quantity guidelines for illicit drugs that will determine whether drug offenders are subject to administrative sanctions as user "victims" or sent to prison as drug traffickers under the tough new drug law passed in February. Under the law, anyone in possession of more than the specified amounts is considered to be a drug trafficker and will be prosecuted accordingly, although the government said it could consider someone caught with just slightly more than the proscribed quantities to be a "victim," not a dealer, who could be sentenced to drug treatment instead of 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.

The figures are supposedly based on the concept of average dose suitable for one to get intoxicated. In general, they reflect an amount based on between five and 10 "average doses."

Quantities that will trigger drug trafficking penalties are:
           Marijuana and hashish: ½ gram or more
           Cocaine: ¾ gram or more
           Ecstasy: ¾ gram or more
           Amphetamine: ½ gram or more
           Heroin: ¼ gram or more
           LSD: 1/8 gram or more

But these amounts do not refer to the actual weight of the drug, but instead to the weight of its active ingredient. Thus, in the case of marijuana, the law sets the quantity of THC at half a gram, but with marijuana averaging perhaps 10% THC, that would equate to 5 grams of pot. Similarly, one-quarter gram of 100% pure heroin would be considered the same as one gram of 25% pure heroin.

The quantities were set by the government's Ministerial Commission and presented by Minister for Parliamentary Relations Carlo Giovanardi. "Up until today there's been total arbitrariness and it can happen that a drug addict can be convicted or not only on the basis of the judge's discretion, setting aside the type of quantity of the drug. This way, however, there are valid scientific parameters and under the threshold is personal use for which the drug user will not be penalized, but seen as a victim who wants to reform," Giovanardi said in a statement. But above these thresholds, "we want the law to step in because the traffickers of death must be beaten," he added.

Under the new law, persons caught with less than the threshold amounts are subject to administrative sanctions such as loss of drivers' licenses or passports, those who are determined to be "small time" dealers face drug treatment, and "traffickers" face from six to 20 years in prison.

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Issue #430 -- 4/7/06

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