Tracknum: 8076.012101c3ab2b.ad1b5960.291179d1 Pubdate: Sat, 15 Nov 2003 Source: Guardian, The (UK) Copyright: 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited Contact: http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/175 Author: John Hooper Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/coke.htm (Cocaine) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mdma.htm (Ecstasy) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/heroin.htm (Heroin) ITALY'S NEW HARD LINE ON SOFT DRUGS SPARKS ROW Cannabis and Ecstasy Users Face Tough Penalties in Crackdown ROME -- Furious argument erupted in Italy yesterday over plans by Silvio Berlusconi's hard-right government for a sharp u-turn on drug control. A bill drawn up by the deputy prime minister and leader of Italy's former neo-fascists, Gianfranco Fini, abolishes distinctions between "hard" and "soft" drugs and introduces stiff penalties for possession as well as trafficking. Cannabis users caught with more than a few days' supply face jail sentences. Clubbers found with a single ecstasy tablet could have their passports impounded. Mr Fini said: "Taking drugs is not an innocuous exercise of freedoms that cannot be curbed, but a rejection of the most elementary duties of the individual towards the various communities in which he or she actually lives." Monsignor Vinicio Albanesi, the president of the Capodarco community, which takes in drug addicts for rehabilitation, condemned the proposals. "The philosophy underlying the bill is that of the authoritarian father who doesn't know how to cope with his son, so takes a strap to him," he said. While several European countries are edging towards decriminalisation of cannabis, Italy has chosen to follow a tougher, US-style approach. Mr Fini said a new policy was needed because of the increasing strength of the cannabis derivatives reaching Italy. "The joint of 10 years ago had an active ingredient of not more than 1.5%. Today, you can find them with as much as 15%. That is how the devastating and progressively less reversible effects [of cannabis] on physical and mental health are being multiplied," he said. While penalising all forms of drug-taking, Mr Fini's law reintroduces the concept of a "daily minimum dose", which was struck out of the Italian statute book by a referendum 10 years ago. The new possession thresholds are 250mg of cannabis, 300mg of ecstasy, 200mg of heroin and, somewhat surprisingly, 500mg of cocaine. Unless the bill is modified in parliament, possession of more than these amounts will be a crime punishable by up to six years in prison. Possession of smaller amounts will also be an offence, but with non-custodial penalties. Offenders risk having their passports and their driving and arms licences suspended; foreigners, including European Union citizens, would lose their residents' permits. Mr Fini's bill has come as a shock to a society in which cannabis smoking has become quite widely accepted. Surveys show that the number of users runs to several million and that a third of all university students have tried soft drugs. Not long ago, a guest on a prime-time television show ostentatiously lit a very obvious spliff. One of the programme's co-presenters, Paolo Kessisoglu, said yesterday: "It's plain as day that, even if the law gets through, it's going to be impossible to enforce." The composer of a new song aimed at the prohibitionist lobby, who goes by the stage name of J Ax, sounded a similar note. "What are they going to do?" he asked an interviewer from the newspaper La Stampa. "Arrest six-and-a-half million Italians?" His song notes that Mr Fini is himself a smoker - of tobacco. However, with 14,000 Italians undergoing treatment for soft-drug abuse, not all those involved in therapeutic work oppose the bill. Father Pierino Gelmini of the Incontro community, which helps victims of drugs and alcohol, said: "All drugs do harm. Joints scramble the brain. Is that what we want - to bring up an army of demented youngsters?"