Italy overturns ‘absurd’ drug law equating marijuana and hard drugs; 10,000 May Be Released From Jail
Italy’s constitutional court has overturned a law that tripled sentences for selling, cultivating and possessing cannabis and which has been blamed for causing prison overcrowding.
Prison rights group Antigone say the law has caused prison overcrowding, with 40% of all inmates serving sentences for drug crimes.
The constitutional court said the law, which was passed in 2006 by Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government, was “illegitimate”, without giving further details. Some estimates suggest 10,000 people may be released from jail as a result.
In Italy, jails are considered to be the most crowded in the European Union. Official data shows that Italian prisons are operating beyond capacity, with 62,000 inmates residing in facilities meant to house a maximum of 48,000.
The law classified marijuana and hashish as equal, in legal terms, to cocaine and heroin, raising sentences for cultivation, sale and trafficking to 6-20 years from 2-6 years previously.
After the court’s ruling, the drug law previously in place will automatically take effect, under which crimes related to “hard” drugs like cocaine and heroin carry lengthier sentences than cannabis.
Neither law made it a criminal offense to consume cannabis but both outlawed its possession.
“The so-called drug war as conceived in North America has been lost and it’s time to return to rational rules that distinguish between substances,” Franco Corleone, of the human rights group Society of Reason, told Reuters.
Senator Carlo Giovanardi, one of the original architects of the stricter law, said the ruling was a “devastating choice from a scientific viewpoint and in the message it sends to young people that some drugs are less dangerous than others“.
In January 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that overcrowding in Italy’s jails violates the basic rights of inmates. The Italian authorities were fined 100,000 euros ($135,700) and ordered to solve the overcrowding issue within a year.
Meanwhile, while the legalization push is gaining momentum in the US on a state level, marijuana remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, meaning there is no currently accepted medical use and “a high potential for abuse.”
According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency,
“Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
While heroin is also classified as a Schedule I drug, Cocaine, methamphetamine and OxyContin are listed as Schedule II, meaning they officially have “less abuse potential” than cannabis.
In an open letter, 18 members of Congress called on President Barack Obama to reclassify marijuana.
What’s your take on this? Should the law have remained or been overturned?