Italy relaxes cannabis laws
Richard Owen in Rome
Times Online (UK)
June 27, 2006
Boosted by its overwhelming victory in the
referendum on devolution yesterday, the
centre-left Government of Romano Prodi has
moved to dismantle yet another legacy of the
Berlusconi era by overturning its “zero
tolerance” drugs policy.
The change will restore the distinction
between “hard” and “soft” drugs, and will
increase the amount of cannabis a person can
possess without being arrested as a suspected
During its first month in power the Centre
Left, which won local elections last month as
well as the general election in April , has
reversed the policies of Silvio Berlusconi ’s
five-year administration on issues from Iraq
to significant infrastructure projects.
Livia Turco, the Minister of Health and a
member of the former Communist Democrats of
the Left, said today that she would act
immediately on the amount of cannabis
permitted, an administrative measure that does
not require parliamentary approval.
She said the amount of cannabis allowed for
personal use — 500mg — would be doubled.
Nearly 10 per cent of Italians smoke cannabis
regularly, according to a recent survey. A
third of Italian teenagers between the ages of
15 and 19 say they have smoked it at least
Paolo Ferrero, the Welfare Minister, who is a
Communist, said he would ask Parliament to
repeal the “zero tolerance” policy and re-establish
the distinction between hard and soft drugs.
The emphasis would be on “prevention rather
than punishment” and “treatment and
rehabilitation rather than repression”. This
would help to fight illegal drug-dealing by
the Mafia, Signor Ferrero said.
However, Antonio Maria Costa , executive
director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime,
issued a warning this week that cannabis posed
“health risks” similar to those caused by
In the 2006 World Drug Report, he said
cannabis had become more potent in recent
decades and Governments that maintained
“inadequate” policies “get the drug problem
they deserve . . . Policy reversals leave
young people confused as to just how dangerous
Daniela Santanche, a member of the Far Right
Alleanza Nazionale — the moving force behind
“zero tolerance” — said Signora Turco’s
decision would “send a terrible message to
young people that drug use is OK”.
The new drugs policy has also raised alarm
among Catholic members of the centre-left
coalition. The Vatican objected strongly this
month when Signor Ferrero suggested that Italy
might introduce supervised “shooting galleries”
where heroin addicts could inject themselves
in a controlled, hygienic environment.
A number of nations, including Switzerland ,
Germany , Spain , Australia and Canada , have
supervised “drug-consumption centres”. But the
International Narcotics Control Board says
this appears to condone hard drugs and thus
undermines the UN’s prohibitionist policies.
Signor Ferrero also caused a furore recently
by declaring that “many professional people in
Italy , including politicians” use cocaine.
Health experts say there has been an 80 per
cent rise in cocaine use in Italy over the
past ten years. There are also an estimated
300,000 heroin addicts.