Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2006
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: John Hooper
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


John Hooper Reports on the Government's Efforts to Force Through a
New, Zero-Tolerance Drugs Policy

Anyone planning a holiday in Italy and thinking of enjoying a quiet
spliff while, let's say, watching the sun go down over the Bay of
Naples, had better think again.

A vote in the Italian parliament yesterday means that a new,
zero-tolerance policy on drugs is almost certain to become law within
the next couple of months. With the aroma of defiantly smoked cannabis
floating in the air outside, lawmakers approved a measure that
abolishes the distinction between hard and soft drugs and makes
possession, as well as dealing, a criminal offence.

The proposed penalties for possession have a distinctly Italian
flavour. They include being banned from riding a scooter and being
forbidden to enter a football stadium.

Silvio Berlusconi's rightwing government had virtually assured the
endorsement of the new guidelines by tying them into a bill providing
the necessary legislation for security measures at the Turin Winter
Olympics, which begin on Friday. Having already passed the upper house
of parliament, they are virtually assured of reaching the statute
book, though anti-prohibitionists are appealing to the country's
president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, not to sign them into law.

Today, they wheeled a giant, papier-mache model of a spliff into the
square outside parliament in the centre of Rome, set off coloured
flares, chanted, sang and then - joined by some of the legislators
opposed to the bill - lit up. Paolo Cento, a leader of Italy's Green
party, was among those who took part in the protest smoke-in.

Several opposition MPs said the government was distancing the country
from its European partners, several of whom have already implemented,
or are least considering, decriminalisation. But Isabella Bertolini,
deputy leader in parliament of Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party,
said the main point of the proposed law was to impose a "hard line on
the dealers who sow death".

Italy's own drugs laws were significantly relaxed after a referendum
in 1993. The U-turn is the brainchild of Gianfranco Fini, Mr
Berlusconi's deputy in government and leader of the formerly
neo-fascist National Alliance.

Two years ago, he declared that a new approach was needed because
drug-taking was a "rejection of the most elementary duties of the
individual towards the various communities in which he or she lives".

Another reason for the clampdown, he argued, was the increased
strength of the cannabis derivatives reaching Italy. "The joint of 10
years ago had an active ingredient of at most 1.5%", he said. "Today,
you can find them with as much as 15%".

Yesterday's bill re-establishes the concept, abolished in 1993, of a
normal daily supply as a way of distinguishing between drug-users and
drug-traffickers. The task of fixing precise quantities for each drug
will be delegated to the health ministry.

Anyone caught with more than the permitted amount will be liable to
between six and 20 years in jail. Those found with less also risk
trial and conviction, but the penalties will be a lot less severe.

Government supporters have argued that this sharp distinction will
ensure that no one is jailed for mere possession. But opposition
politicians insist that, if the allowable quantity for a drug is set
too low, someone in possession of, say, a week's or month's supply
could end up going to jail for years.

How the proposed new law will affect foreigners is still unclear, but
the original draft proposals included a provision according to which
tourists found with even a single ecstasy pill would have their
passports impounded. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake