Italy: Prohibitionist drugs law reform comes under parliamentary scrutiny

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The Italian drugs law reform drafted by Gianfranco Fini, the Italian government’s deputy prime minister until he took over from Franco Frattini at the foreign ministry as a result of the Buttiglione dèbacle - was submitted to the Italian senate for scrutiny by the Justice and Health commissions on 18 November 2004.

The draft law, which if approved would represent a radical prohibitionist shift in Italian drugs law, doing away with the distinction between “hard” and “soft” drugs, criminalising the possession and personal use of relatively small amounts, and establishing a draconian system of punishments that includes administrative sanctions as well as an expansion of the use of prison sentencing for drug offenders, was approved by the Council of Ministers (the Italian cabinet) on 12 November 2003.

The opposition was highly critical of the proposed reform, and presented an alternative text for the drug law reform that does not punish consumption, possession and personal use, but rather the dealing of drugs to third parties for financial gain. Franco Corleone, the president of the Forum Droghe (Drugs Forum), noted that the two draft laws are the expression of “different philosophies”: one of them is “punitive” and based on prison sentencing, the other looks to de-criminalise consumption, with policies aimed at promoting “harm reduction and alternative sentencing measures”.

The drug law reform was greeted by protests and concern over the possibility that it may give rise to an increase in the prison population, and of surveillance measures directed at young people and in schools (see Statewatch news online, February 2004).

On this last subject, it is interesting to note that a headmaster in Rho (Milan) received a one year and eight month sentence on 27 June 2004 for failing to take adequate measures to counter drug use among students (described by the prosecutor as “aiding and abetting” drug use and “favouring” drug dealing). The headmaster’s defence lawyer, Giuliano Pisapia, announced that an appeal would be filed, noting that “they have wanted to issue a sentence on a phenomenon that is present in every school” and that this precedent could allow “any prosecuting magistrate” to charge “not just headmasters, but any teacher as well”. Alfredo Mantovano, the interior ministry undersecretary, expressed his hope that the reform may be approved before the end of 2005.

Sources:, 14.5.04; Repubblica, 28.6.04, 18.11.04; ANSA 6-7.9.04.

See also: Statewatch news online briefing paper on the proposed drugs law, February 2004: Italy: New drugs law heralds the mass criminalisation of drug users

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