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CORA - 1 luglio 1994
(27) THE CORA AND THE ITALIAN REFERENDUM ON DRUGS

On April 18, 1993 Italy voted on a referendum promoted by the Radical Party and the CORA (Radical Antiprohibitionist Co-ordination) for the depenalization of drug use. The referendum was a success, contrary to press forecasts and initial polls: 55.5% of voters (over 19 million vs. 15.5 million persons) in fact voted for the repeal of the article of law of most prohibitionist importance as well as the abrogation of all penal sanctions that punished users of prohibited substances. The administrative sanctions not submitted to referendum (such as taking away driver's licences) remained in force, however.

The article of law repealed: "The personal use of narcotic and psychotropic substances is prohibited" was considered a true "manifesto" of the prohibitionist strategy and its annulment made the successive evolution of the Italian government's drug policy towards a strategy of Harm Reduction possible.

The law submitted to referendum was approved in July 1990. It had been solidly decreed by the ex-prime minister, then Secretary of the Socialist Party, Bettino Craxi, with the support of the relative majority party, the Christian Democrats and the right wings. The debate on the law had been accompanied by much controversy and a severe parliamentary and political clash with the antiprohibitionists led by Marco Pannella and Marco Taradash.

The cornerstone instrument of the law, that had extended punishment from dealing to use, was the concept "average daily dose", defined by ministerial decree. This new regulation, considered totally arbitrary by the scientific community, allowed very severe penalties to be inflicted on users not careful enough to buy doses below those provided for by law. The regulation of the average daily dose furthermore penalized soft drugs in particular (with the purpose of discouraging young people from approaching narcotic substances): the possession of more than half a gram of "grass" was enough to give rise to sentences of two to six years imprisonment. More severe sentences, from eight to twenty years, struck users of hard drugs whose daily average dose was set (for heroin) at one tenth of a gram.

In spite of the fact that, thanks to extenuating circumstances, cases of such severe sentences were rare, the influence of the new drug law on the Italian legal and penitentiary system had been devastating. Within two years, the number of prisoners in Italy doubled, provoking a very serious problem of overcrowding. The Radical Party and the CORA had already begun collecting the 500 thousand signatures necessary, according to Italian law, to request a referendum, thereby gathering together 750 thousand in 3 months, notwithstanding the tough press campaign promoted by the government. The referendum was then held in the Spring of 1993, midst a different political climate, when the power of the two parties most lined-up in defense of the law (the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party) had entered a state of crisis, and after the new Prime Minister Giuliano Amato had announced in a joint press conference with the radical leaders Marco Pannella, Emma Bonino and Marco Taradash, the opening towards the strate

gy of Harm Reduction.

Further to the popular approval of the referendum, the law was changed in the following manner:

1. The article prohibiting personal use of narcotic and psychotropic substances was eliminated.

2. The criterion "average daily dose" was done away with, thereby eliminating all the regulations providing penalties for users found in possession of larger quantities than the established dose.

3.The possibility for doctors to prescribe substitute treatment such as methadone was restored, removing all power from the Ministry of Health to impose restrictions of any general nature.

Further to the referendum, above all the cultural climate that had accompanied the passing and the enforcement of the law of 1990 changed: there was a re-opening at every level, including scientific and political, of discussion on methods of prevention not only of drug use but also AIDS, on deaths from overdose and the overcrowding of prisons (at the time of the referendum, out of 15 thousand imprisoned drug addicts, approximately one quarter were seropositive with the risks that implies to both the person himself as well as to fellow prisoners). This led, in June 1993, to the official upholding by the Italian government of the Harm Reduction strategy supported by the antiprohibitionists and in particular by the CORA. A strategy that for the time being, however, has not found specific forms of application. A positive sign does, however, come from recent data on drug mortality that show a definite inversion of tendency in 1994 compared to previous years.

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CORA

The Cora (Radical Antiprohibitionist Co-ordination) is an association of the Radical Party founded in 1987.

It at present numbers more than 4000 members.

Active on an international level, the Cora organized the "International Conference on Antiprohibitionism on Drugs" in October 1988 in Brussels. This conference which assembled many experts in the field was the firs of its kind.

In April 1989 the Cora organized the founding Congress of the IAL (International Antiprohibitionist League) in Rome.

The same year, the Cora promoted the presentation of an antiprohibitionist list to the European Parliament elections which led to the election of Marco Taradash.

In May 1990, the antiprohibitionist lists promoted by the Cora that competed in the local elections led to the election of 16 Councillors in the most important regions, provinces and cities in Italy.

The same year, the CORA constituted a Monitoring Centre for the Laws on Drugs directed by Carla Rossi, Professor of Mathematical Statistics.

In January 1991, together with the Free University of Brussels (ULB-VUB) it organized the international Conference "Prohibition or Antiprohibition on Drugs".

Last but not least it was the triggering source of the Italian Referendum on Drugs of April 1993.

Cora

1st Secretary, Maurizio Turco

Via di Torre Argentina 76

00186 ROME - Italy

Tel. 00 396 678791

fax. 00.396 688O5396

 
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