Italy: getting radical

Cannabis in Italy
Paolo Vigevano handing out hash to an eager crowd: Aug 95Paolo Vigevano handing out hash to an eager crowd: Aug 95Due to the wonderful Italian climate marijuana is cultivated all over the country. It is grown mainly indoors in apartments, greenhouses or garrets, but there have also been cases of massive outdoor plantations in the South, including fields surrounded by sunflowers that had marijuana in the middle.

In a population of 60 million, the estimated number of Italian cannabis consumers ranges from 2 to 7 million. Italy has a one year mandatory draft, and it is common knowledge that an overwhelming majority of the soldiers smoke joints.

The Radical way to legalization

Despite the deep roots of Catholicism in Italy, divorce and abortion were legalised in the ’70s and ’80s when referendums forced the government to make changes on these issues. The initiator of these referendums was a small political organisation called “The Radical Party”, which has been fighting for individual liberty and an end to prohibition since 1967.

Before the referendum on abortion, some Radical Party directors (including Emma Bonino, the current European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid) performed civil disobedience actions. They were imprisoned for organizing clandestine clinics that helped women to get safe abortions.

Nonviolence, civil disobedience and referendums were the Radical’s tools in politics on divorce and abortion rights, and have naturally become the Radical way to approach the prohibition of drugs, especially cannabis and its derivatives.

Decrim in ’75

Rita Benardim:about to be arrested for tossing joints to the crowd: Oct 97Rita Benardim:about to be arrested for tossing joints to the crowd: Oct 97In 1975, after three years of campaigning for the abolition of criminal penalties for the consumption of drugs, Radical Party founder and leader, Marco Pannella, was arrested after smoking a joint in public.

From his prison cell, he organised a public campaign to make the Italian Parliament discuss a draft bill, which considered the personal use of drugs to be a non-punishable act.

Pannella refused to ask for bail or temporary release until he received a commitment from the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, that the reform bill would be debated and put to vote within four months.

The law was adopted several months later, and so personal possession of cannabis and other drugs was decriminlized in Italy.

Court thwarts in ’81

In 1980, the Radical Party collected signatures in support of a referendum on the complete legalisation of marijuana and hashish. The referendum should have been held in the Spring of 1981, but in January the Constitutional Court ruled that such a referendum was inadmissible, making specific references to the (untrue) obligations of the United Nations Conventions on Narcotics.

Recrim, then decrim in the 90’s.

Marco Panella shows off a chunk of hash on Italian TV: Feb 75Marco Panella shows off a chunk of hash on Italian TV: Feb 75In 1990, due to the new prohibitionist wave imposed by the American “War on Drugs”, the Italian law on drugs became one of the toughest in the world. The possession of cannabis was re-criminalised.

But in 1992, the scenario changed yet again. Radicals once more promoted a referendum on the decriminalisation of personal drug use and freedom of therapy for addicts.

The referendum passed with 52% of the votes, and so Italian cannabis and drug laws are now quite tolerant again. Personal possession of all substances has been decriminalized, but if you are caught by the police you can still face administrative sanctions, like the suspension of your driving license or passport.

Whoever is caught growing, selling, importing or exporting, or delivering cannabis (even for free) can face jail, with penalties varying according to the quantity involved. There are no THC level restrictions, everything is prohibited.

The fight continues

TRP Secretary Jean Fabre being arrested for giving away joints: Oct 5, 79TRP Secretary Jean Fabre being arrested for giving away joints: Oct 5, 79The fight is not over: a popular draft bill for the legalisation of cannabis, endorsed by more than 50,000 citizens, was presented to the Chamber of Deputies by the Radical party Antiprohibitionist Co-ordination and will be discussed in the next months by the Committee on Justice and that on Social Affairs.

At the same time, a series of civil disobedience actions have been organised to raise public awareness of the issue. During the last two years, twenty-five Radicals have been charged for distributing hashish and marijuana during public demonstrations all over Italy, and the trials are producing the first convictions.

These trials include that of Radical leader Marco Pannella, who gave away 250 grams of hashish during a TV program aired on December 1995. The prosecutor initially asked for the dismissal of the case, but Pannella insisted on being tried, risking up to 6 years in jail.

Such high profile cannabis trials are all for political actions in which hashish was given away for free. The question of medical cannabis is not an issue so far, although there has recently been a case that in a way tolerated the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and the two users weren’t punished.

The Transnational Radical Party

The Transnational Radical Party (TRP) is an international, political, nonviolent organization.

TRP is both a political party (which does not participate in international or local elections) and a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in consultative status with the United Nations.

Our objectives are all international issues: revision of the UN international conventions on drugs; the universal abolition of the death penalty; the establishment of an international criminal court; and the use of an international auxiliary language.

For over five years we’ve had about 20 offices all over Central and Eastern Europe, and now we also have offices in Brussels, Moscow, Rome and New York. In 1997 we had 4,000 members worldwide.TRP Secretary Jean Fabre being arrested for giving away joints: Oct 5, 79


The Transnational Radical Party: 866 Unit.Nations Plaza 408, New York, NY 10017; tel (212) 980-1031; fax (212) 980-1072; email: [email protected]/pr/; website: