New drugs law heralds the mass criminalisation of drug users

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Statewatch briefing:

Deputy prime minister Gianfranco Fini, the general secretary of Alleanza Nazionale (AN, the right wing National Alliance party) has presented a draft law that would lead to the wholesale criminalisation of drug users, removing the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs and criminalising the personal use and possession of relatively small amounts.

To punish drug users, the government wants to extend the use of "administrative sanctions" (such as the temporary withdrawal of passports, the suspension of driving license and the confiscation of mopeds or motorbikes) for offences deemed "not serious", while tightening the criminal law and sending more drug offenders to prison. The draft law was approved by the council of ministers (the government cabinet), and is now due to be examined by parliament. The measures introduced by the new law would reform the 1990 Iervolino-Vassalli law, which originally envisaged criminal sanctions for the possession and consumption of illegal substances above a specified average daily dose, but was amended by presidential decree following a referendum on 18 April 1993 in which the public voted for the de-criminalisation of possession of drugs for personal use.

In the report containing the proposed law, Fini dismisses the libertarian notion that taking illegal substances is a matter of personal choice:

"taking drugs is not a harmless exercise of freedom that does not tolerate interference, but rather, it is an act of rejection of the most fundamental duties of individuals towards the communities in which they ... live: the institutions [state have a duty to respond to such behaviour with a complex framework of measures"

He also explained that the reform of drug legislation was necessary as a result of recent judicial decisions, including a ruling by the Court of Cassation (Italy's highest appeal court) that found that possession of a larger amount of hashish than could be justified for "personal use", purchased jointly by a group of persons who were going on holiday together, did not amount to dealing.

Mass criminalisation of drug users

The proposed law seeks to overhaul drug legislation through the wholesale criminalisation of consumption and possession of drugs, rather than supply, and by eliminating the distinction between hard and soft drugs (such as cannabis and hashish), which Fini describes as "misleading", due to the fact that some substances derived from cannabis have higher contents of THC than was the case in the past. On the basis of Fini's generalisations, and only ten years after 55.4% of Italian voters supported the de-criminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use and consumption, such acts are now set to be punished.

The complex "framework of measures" that Fini called for was approved unanimously by the Council of Ministers (the government cabinet) on 13 November 2003. It establishes an interministerial national committee to coordinate activities to counter drugs, headed by the Prime Minister, involving all of the ministers whose competencies are affected (art. 1.2). It places the National Observatory on Drugs under its control and also strengthens the centralisation of drugs fighting services under the Direzione Centrale per i Servizi Antidroga (DCSA, Central Direction for Anti-drug Services) - a high level police body responsible for coordinating and organising police services and activities to prevent and combat trafficking in illegal substances. The DCSA will have to be informed of any activity to counter drugs that is undertaken by any law enforcement agency, and will be expected to establish a d


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