[JURIST] [JURIST Europe] The conservative Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pushed through new legislation putting marijuana (cannabis) on par with cocaine and heroine and ending the legal distinction between 'soft' and 'hard' drugs, effectively recriminalizing marijuana use in the country. The law, approved in the Italian Parliament [official website] in a confidence vote, provides for strict sanctions against marijuana users including mandatory detention at home during the night and suspension of driver's license and passport. Those found to be dealing or trafficking in drugs face between six and twenty years in jail along with 260,000 euros (around $311,500) in fines. Critics argue the law amounts to the wholesale criminalization of drug users [Statewatch backgrounder on draft law], side-steps the root causes of drug use and gives incarceration more emphasis than treatment; they also accuse the government of trying to use the law to gain votes in the upcoming April 9 elections [Reuters report].
Under previous Italian law, individuals possessing marijuana for personal use were subject only to a summons and a warning. The new Italian legislation goes against a recent trend towards liberalization in other European states; in 2004, for instance, the British government downgraded marijuana [UK Home Office backgrounder], making possession a non-arrestable offence in most cases, although technically a conviction could lead to a two-year jail term, down from the previous five. Recent statistics have shown that 10% of Italian adults have reported smoking marijuana on a regular basis, with 33% of Italian teenagers having smoked it at least once. ANSA has local coverage. BBC News has more.