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Country Profile - Italy

Development of legislation
Controlled substances
Drug use and possession
Trafficking and drug-related crime
Prosecution and practice
Prevention, care and treatment
Money laundering and confiscation
New developments

Development of Legislation

Historically, the Italian legislation in the field of drugs has always been based on the principle of the non criminalisation of consumption of drugs.

The law adopted in December 1975 confirmed this principle but affirmed the unlawfulness of possessing a controlled drug. Two criteria were however introduced to regulate prosecution: the objective of the act, notably the personal use or not, and the quantity of the drugs possessed. This act was strongly criticised, because the mechanism of the non punishment, related to the possession of small quantities, caused strong divergences in the application of the law.

In 1990, also to solve this question, a new consolidated law was adopted revising and concentrating in a single text of law the previous regulations in the field of drugs; this was the Law nº 162, 26 June 1990 approved with a presidential decree (DPR) nº 309 of October 1990, known as the DPR 309.

This law, still in force, provides the legal framework for licit trade, treatment and prevention, prohibition and punishment of illicit activities. With this law, and for the first time in Italy, the use of drugs as well as all conduct related to it, such as possession, acquisition, transportation, are prohibited. The offenders will be punished by administrative sanctions (fines or suspension of driving licence). Regarding the use of drugs a system of fixed quantities was introduced as the threshold between use and traffic. Once again strong criticisms and a lively debate among the public opinion accompanied this text, and provoked a major change in the new law. A referendum took place three years later and amended the law in the provision regarding the prohibition of drugs use. Article 72.1 of DPR 309 defining the prohibition of personal use was abrogated as well as the reference to the daily quantities, the intervention of the penal judge, and the concept of a fixed threshold to divide between users and traffickers [1].

From now on drug use is no longer mentioned (at least as an offence) in the Italian law. Possession, acquisition, import for personal consumption remain prohibited receiving administrative sanctions only. No more fixed quantities are applied as limits between use and traffic. It is left to the judicial authorities to assess the objective of the illegal act and to define the threshold to distinguish illicit activities to be punished by administrative measures or by penal sanctions. The main criteria to look at is now the personal use.

In 1999 a new law n.45 of 18 February 1999 amended the DPR 309, constituting the National Drugs Observatory into the Ministry of Social Affairs. It has the responsibility to develop drug policy in respect of prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social re-integration. A National Co-ordinating Committee for Anti-Drug Activities is also established [2] while financial provisions determine the transfer of 75% of the national drugs budget to the Regions and the Autonomous Provinces [3].

Decrees on 12 April 1999 and 14 September 1999 respectively establish the Council of operators and experts in drug dependence, and the organisation and functions of the Italian Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OIDT) within the Department for Social Affairs.

Controlled substances

Controlled substances in Italy are classified in six lists attached to the Decree 4 March 1992 and amendments.

  • List I includes opiates and cocaine derivatives;
  • List II cannabis;
  • List III highly addictive barbiturates;
  • List IV medical substances;
  • List V special preparation containing drugs;
  • List VI stimulants.

Illicit activities related to drugs are punished differently according to the list to which the drug belongs: lists II and IV are less severely punished than lists I and III.
Precursors are controlled by the Legislative Decree 258 of 12 April 1996 which implements EEC Directive 92/109.

Drug use and possession

Use of drugs is not mentioned in the law as a criminal offence. However, possession of all drugs is prohibited and punishable by administrative sanctions in case of personal use, and by prison sentences in case of dealing or trafficking.

When a person is found in possession of drugs classified in tables II or IV (marijuana, hashish, (II), therapeutic drugs which can produce dependence (IV)) and they are only for personal use, the person will be summonsed for an interview with the Prefect of Police or his representative. If the person agrees to refrain from offending in the future, on the first occasion of the summons, he may receive a warning of the dangers of drugs and be formally requested not to use illegal substances again. If the person is a minor, this approach is used no matter in which table the drug is listed. Wherever possible in such cases the family of the person is informed on the facts and invited to contact available social/health services.

Should the person be found in unlawful possession of a controlled drug again, he may be re-summonsed to a meeting where the reasons for the violation are examined and new arrangements may be established to prevent further violations. In such instances the Prefect is assisted by advisers from local health/social services and at this stage the person may be subject to administrative sanctions. These include suspension of driving and gun licences, of the passport and of other equivalent documents. As said the law makes a distinction between drugs in table I (opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, etc.) and table III (barbiturates and hypno-sedatives) and drugs in table II (cannabis) and IV. For the former group, the administrative sanctions are for a period of four months whilst for the latter group the sanctions are reduced for a period of 2 months.

Someone summonsed for an interview having been found in unlawful possession of drugs may voluntarily request a treatment or rehabilitation service (as defined in the law). At this point proceedings are suspended whilst the user is referred to the Services for Treatments (Ser.T) for an assessment, which must be completed within a specified time. If the user fails to attend the programme or leaves without a valid reason, he is called for a second interview with the Prefect or his representative and advised that he should follow the programme and of the consequences if he fails to do so.
A second failure results in a referral to either the public prosecutor for the magistrates court (in the case of adults) or the public prosecutor for the juvenile courts (in the case of minors).

Anyone who has more than two failures in attending or completing a treatment programme with no valid reason, is subject to one or more of the following measures: prohibition to leave the place of residence without authorisation; obligation to present themselves at least twice a week to the police; be subject to a curfew; be banned from visiting certain locations indicated in the order; have suspended driving and gun licences, passport and equivalent documents; be obliged to undertake unpaid work for the benefit of the community at least one working day a week; seizure of any vehicle owned by the user which was used to transport or hold drugs, as well as confiscation of the drugs; probation assignment; and in the case of non-Italians, suspension of the residence permit. These may be imposed for a period of 3 to 8 months in the case of table I and III drugs and for a period of 2 to 4 months in the case of drugs in tables II and IV.

Trafficking and drug related crime

The penalty for production and/or trafficking at an individual level is of 8 to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of between €25 000 and €250 000 (table I and III drugs) and 2 to 6 years imprisonment and a fine of between €5 000 and €77 000 (table II and IV drugs) where significant quantities of drugs are involved.

For smaller quantities, but larger than for personal use, the penalty is one to six years imprisonment and a fine of between €2 600 and €26 000 (table I and III) and 6 months to four years imprisonment and a fine of between €1 000 and €10 000 (table II and IV).

Prosecution and judicial practice

In the Italian system, once the commission of an offence is discovered, the police must always report it to the prosecutor without delay, thus the opportunities for police discretion are strictly limited. Every offence reported to the prosecutor must be registered; then the prosecutor has the duty to initiate the investigation.

Scenario 1: possession of heroin for personal use by an adult offender.

Possession of heroin for personal use belongs to the category of offences which are dealt by the administrative authority (the prefect) as described above under chapter on 'use and possession' .

Scenario 2: property crime committed by a drug user to finance her/his drug addiction.

According to the Italian law "whoever steals things that belong to someone else shall be punished with imprisonment up to three years" (Penal Code, art.624: furto).

When a person is caught in the act of stealing from a shop the police have the power to arrest the shoplifter provisionally. The prosecutor very often considers this offence as a petty offence, because it does not affect people or other goods and the economic damage caused to the victim is very slight. Therefore, a reduction of charge very often occurs for shoplifting. The prosecutor does not often consider burglary as a petty offence, because it usually affects other goods and it is likely to affect people, as well. This offence is indeed potentially very dangerous and serious, thus the prosecutor takes into consideration the modality and the circumstances of the offence, which are considered to be more important than the economic damage. Therefore, even if the economic damage caused to the victim is very slight, the prosecutor does not often indict the offender with a lesser charge.

Leaving aside the extenuating circumstance of the slight gravity of the economic damage, the prosecutor usually grants also the consent to the "agreement on penalty". Thus, in the case of shoplifting, the agreement on penalty very often closes the proceedings before it reaches the court. Reducing the maximum charges very often occurs at court stage. Courts in fact might take into consideration that the shoplifter is himself a drug user and that he is likely to steal items from a shop out of necessity. Therefore, they grant the generic extenuating circumstances as well. Thus, a person charged with shoplifting very often gets a lesser penalty than the maximum possible by law, spending few months in prison.

Scenario 3: small-scale distribution of drugs by a drug user to finance her/his drug addiction.

When a person is caught in the act of dealing drugs the police must arrest him provisionally, unless the offence is considered to be minor, when the arrest of the person is not compulsory. But, in practice, the police usually arrest a dealer, no matter how minor the offence is. The police always confiscate the drugs and any other illegal objects.

In the case of retail sale of heroin, a reduction of the charge might occur. The prosecutor might exercise the power to grant the consent to the "agreement on penalty". When the retail sale of heroin takes place in or near schools, prisons, barracks, hospitals, or treatment structures for drug users, the offence is considered to be more serious by law (DPR 309 art.80). Under these circumstances, less room is left for the "agreement on penalty", which can be granted only if the offence is considered to be minor. But, since the prosecutor evaluates the offence as a whole, he sometimes considers it to be minor anyway. Otherwise, the case will proceed to court.

There is no room for dropping a case or diversion at court stage, not even in practice. But a reduction of the charges often occurs. Courts, in fact, often come to the conclusion that the circumstance of the offence determine the minor gravity of the offence, especially if the person charged has sold a very small amount of the drug.

Moreover, courts take into consideration that the dealer is himself a drug user, which means that he is likely to deal drugs in order to get money for his own dose. Therefore, they often take a softer approach as well. When the retail sale of heroin takes place in or near schools, prisons, hospitals, treatment structures for drug users, the offence is not considered to be minor.

Thus, a person charged for retail sale of heroin, if a drug addict, often gets a lesser penalty than the maximum possible by law.

Prevention, care and treatment

There has been increasing involvement of the Ser.T and of the socio-rehabilitative services within the prison system. For imprisoned drug users there exists the opportunity to start or to re-start treatment and subsequently apply for an alternative measure instead of the prison sentence to complete the treatment in a therapeutic environment. The treatment service must provide the court with a declaration explaining the treatment proposed and its suitability for the client and the court must be convinced of the client's commitment to undertake the treatment programme.

Alternative measures are available for all offenders where they meet the criteria defined in the law. For drug using offenders, the focus is specifically on treatment and rehabilitation measures which address both criminal behaviour and, as importantly, drug-using behaviour which may have been an important factor in offending.


Precursors are controlled by the Legislative Decree 258 of 12 April 1996 which modifies Art 70 of the DPR 309/90 to implement EEC Directive 92/109. Under s.7, failure to notify the Central Directorate of Drug Control Services in the Ministry of Interior (DCSA) of individual commercial transactions in respect of the substances processed by them (this obligation shall also apply to operators undertaking import, export and transit operations) can be punished by up to one year in prison or a fine of €250 - 2500, and may result in the chemical trading licence being suspended for between one month and one year. S.8 requires co-operation with the DCSA, by providing other information requested or notifying the DCSA of suspicious circumstances with regard to the controlled substances. Failure to provide this would be an administrative offence with a fine of €500 - 2500 and suspension of the chemical trading licence. Under s.12, import, export or transit of Category 1 substances without a licence or the required permit is punished by 4-10 years in prison and a fine of €10 000 to €100 000. Any licence may be revoked and a new licence cannot be obtained for 4 years. Under s.13, export of Category 2 or 3 substances without a licence or the required permit will result in up to one year in prison or a fine of €250 - 2500. In any case of import, exporting or transiting controlled substances without a licence or permit, the activities of the operator may be suspended for between 1 month and 1 year. Supplying Category 1 substances within the EU to persons without authorisation to receive them may result in up to one year in prison or a fine of €250 - 2500.

Money laundering and confiscation

Money laundering is a specific offence under the penal code art.648 bis and 648 ter. The Law of 1997 provides for anti-money laundering procedures to be applied also to non-financial activities.




Text revised by Mrs. Silvia Zanone

  • Italian Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Reitox National Reports 1999, 2000;
  • Giulio Illuminati in Prosecution of drug users in Europe: varying pathways to similar objectives, EMCDDA 2001;
  • ELDD legal texts
  • L'incrimination de l'usage de stupéfiants dans sept legislations européennes, Maria Luisa Cesoni, 2000.


1. Art. 75, 76 and 78 (b., c.) DPR 309 (back)
2. Decree of the Prime Minister 28 April 1999 (back)
3. Decrees of the Minister of Social Solidarity 1 June, 1999 (back)

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Page last updated: Monday, 19 March 2012