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New Italian drug law becomes toughest in Europe.

Italy's centre-right government has approved a proposal making it an offence to possess and use even the smallest quantities of mild narcotics. The move could give Italy some of Europe's most severe anti-drugs laws.

People caught with modest amounts of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and other drugs will be subject to penalties such as deprivation of their passports and driving licences. Those with larger amounts will face prison sentences of up to 20 years.

The proposal goes further than anti-drugs legislation in other European Union countries by abolishing the distinction between so-called 'soft' and 'hard' drugs. It also virtually turns existing Italian law on its head by starting from the principle that it is drug use, rather than drug abuse, that must be stamped out.

In a referendum in April 1993, Italians voted to decriminalise the possession of drugs such as cannabis for personal use. The vote reflected the social reality of a country in which consumption of mild drugs had become increasingly common and whose sunny climate permits extensive cultivation of marijuana, notably in large plantations in the mezzogiorno, or south.

Source:The Financial Times and The Guardian.