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Overcrowded Jails Spur Italy to Ease Drug Possession Laws


March 1993

Bursting jails have led Italy towards decriminalizing personal possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and hashish ("With Prisons Overcrowded, Italy Eases Up On Drug Possession," Law Enforcement News, 2/14/93, p. 6).

Italian law subjects personal possession of certain prohibited drugs to administrative sanctions instead of criminal punishment. Personal possession is defined by a certain weight for each drug. The new legislation would triple the quantity of drugs for personal use subject to administrative rather than criminal penalties. Administrative sanctions include measures such as loss of drivers' licenses, gun permits and passports. The legislation was proposed by Prime Minister Guiliano Amato and approved by the Cabinet on January 12. Most criminal justice officials in Italy have backed the measure as a means to reduce overcrowding.

The legislation must be codified by both houses of the Italian Parliament, but the Cabinet decree is in force pending approval, which was anticipated within three months. Under the new standards, about 1,000 of the 25,000 drug offenders in Italian prisons would be eligible for release.