Roman Path


Most Italians do not consider users of illegal drugs to be normal, but lately they seem less inclined to view them as criminals.

In January the Italian government issued a decree that decriminalized most drug use. From now on, possession of up to three "average daily doses" will be punished by administrative sanctions, such as passport or driver's-license suspension, rather than prison terms. The decree acknowledged the failure of a harsh 1990 law that doubled the number of Italians behind bars.

A ballot measure scheduled for this spring would go even further, abolishing the automatic, quantity-based distinction between possession for use and possession for sale. Instead, it would charge judges with making the determination in each case, based upon evidence of intent.

A survey conducted last November by the polling organization Demoskopea on behalf of RED, a drug-law reform group, found that 51 percent of Italians support some kind of legalization. Five percent said all types of drugs should be available in supermarkets and tobacconists. Ten percent said hashish and marijuana should be sold by tobacconists but cocaine and heroin should be available by prescription only. Thirty-six percent agreed with respect to hashish, marijuana, and cocaine but wanted heroin under stricter control.

On the other hand, the poll found that misinformation about drugs is prevalent. Sixty-three percent of the respondents believed that users of soft drugs always move on to hard drugs, and 81 percent said anyone who uses heroin will become addicted. Only 26 percent agreed that "many drug users are not addicts and are able to lead a normal life."

Despite negative attitudes toward drug use, a RED spokesman told Italian reporters, "the dramatic failure of the drug policy is so glaringly evident that the Italian people are ready to try other solutions in order to change the situation."