The Italian Almanac

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Italian Constitutional Court

Possession of Soft Drugs

Italy's Constitutional Court threw out as "illegitimate" a 2005 law that equates the possession of soft drugs to heavy drugs and has been blamed as a contributing factor to severe overcrowding in Italian prisons. With the ruling, Italian law reverts to a 1993 provision that includes lighter sentencing for narcotics not considered Class A hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine.

While some politicians reacted by calling for such measures such as legalizing marijuana, others suggested the government move quickly on a more moderate law on drugs. "(This is) a decision that was predictable, and amply justified," said Donatella Ferranti, a member of the Democratic Party (PD) and leader of the Lower House judiciary committee. "It has been among the causes of prison overcrowding, with thousands of prisoners who deserve much better treatment," she added.

The so-called Fini-Giovanardi law, which had been passed by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) government, had been challenged several times since its inception before this definitive ruling. The most recent challenge came in December when a Milan judge turned over to the Constitutional Court a case of a Tunisian citizen arrested for dealing hashish. Defence attorneys argued he was being tried under a law that was unconstitutional because it violates the European Union legal principle that the punishment must be proportional to the crime.