For The Antiprohibitionist Reform Of The Un Conventions On Drugs


Forty years ago a famous writer imagined a Martian coming to Rome. It would be interesting if the same Martian could come back now, forty years later, and we had to tell him about the way Italy has developed - there would be no lack of examples, but I think that the story of drugs policy in Italy over the last 35 years would give the Martian a rather disheartening, though truthful picture. For while in other countries there is discussion, and there seems to be a beginning or something that resembles a reasoned debate, in our country what seems to have taken root is more like a bipartisanship of superstition. And yet we got off to a fairly good start: in 1975, thanks to a non-violent, Radical battle by Marco Pannella, a law was introduced which depenalised personal use. 15 years later, the combination of a calculated electoral strategy (ultimately unsuccessful) by the Socialist leader Craxi, who wanted to paint himself as a champion of law and order, and of the failure of the left-wing to fight for the liberties, led to the introduction of a prohibitionist law, which has remained substantially intact: a law which penalises personal consumption, which punishes those who sell or even give narcotic substances to others, and the jurisprudence quickly specified even tiny quantities for any reason, even if I pass a joint to a neighbour who is not actually there I am still liable to prosecution (?). And since this is Wonderland, where everything is upside-down, and justice, too, is upside-down, it happened that this law was signed in 1990 by a father of the Resistance, a great and noble Socialist jurist, Giuliano Vassalli, and by the then Minister of Social Affairs, Rosa Russo Iervolino, who would later become Minister of Education, distinguishing herself for her fierce opposition to a comic strip informing high school kids about the use of condoms (the only effect of her campaign was, of course, to bring fame and fortune to the author of the comic strip, which as believers in freedom we naturally welcomed). Anyway, as I was saying, since this is Alice’s Wonderland where everything is upside-down, Mrs Russo Iervolino is now the Mayor of an important city, elected by the so-called progressive front, and for a long time she was also the candidate of the Italian left to take over from Scalfaro as President of the Republic, that’s the way things go, imagine the shock to our poor Martian, but if we want to be his true friends we have to tell him the truth. Since then many things have happened: in the meantime the Radicals have promoted a referendum on the drugs law, by inventing a referendum question that would get round the often extremely limited criteria - the poor Martian would have to try to understand this, too - of the Constitutional Court, which has gradually made the recourse to the referendum instrument a rather complicated matter. Yet in 1993 we managed to present a referendum question that could not be fully anti-prohibitionist, but was anti-punishment, so to speak, that is it eliminated penalties, saved simple drug addicts from prison, and restored the freedoms of doctors and patients, the freedom of the former to prescribe certain substances, and the freedom of the latter to take them. In this funny country, now that the people were informed for the first time about the real meaning of the battle, the referendum was won. The myth of Italy as a conservative country was blown away - every time it has been faced with a choice concerning freedom, even in contrast with the proposals of the conservative ecclesiastical hierarchy, the country has chosen the side of freedom. This is what happened with divorce, with the legalisation or decriminalisation of abortion, and in 1993 with drugs. I say this also to the cowardly Italian politicians who say, "Oh no! Oh no! If we get involved with this issue, we’ll lose" - well, the only time the country voted on this issue we won, we won with a position supporting freedom. Since 8 April 1993, with a few rare exceptions, not a day has gone by without the various governments - with one exception, although to tell the truth it didn’t last long - doing their best to betray the result of the referendum and make it ineffective.
The Radicals therefore tried to take a further step and come up with referendum questions that can really take us along the path we are interested in, that is the path towards full legalisation. By evoking the international conventions, that is precisely the main object of this conference, and of the Radical initiatives in the coming months, the Constitutional Court prevented these further referendum questions from being put to the vote of the electorate. In the meantime the media have become increasingly terroristic, in a provincial, clerical, and therefore morbid way - in the Italian media, for example, news issues come in weeks, like paedophilia week, when it seems that every child is at risk, then a week devoted to car crashes on the way home from discotheques, usually on Saturday night, then the week after it is all suddenly forgotten. Very often - in fact I’m a bit concerned that autumn is on the way and it still hasn’t happened - in October there is usually an ecstasy week, a week of news about chemical and synthetic drugs. Incidentally, one of the most brilliant manifestations of the folly of prohibitionism, the law I mentioned earlier, the 1990 drugs law, includes a list of prohibited substances. Only the most obtuse politicians, alienated from real life and normal logic, could imagine banning the infinite chemical combinations that are possible, but this, too, has happened. So, as I was saying, for the last few years we have had ecstasy week, that is the pill that kills, when in actual fact the real pill that kills is the continuing disinformation. The two main political poles are characterised by the bipartisanship of superstition that I mentioned earlier; the so-called progressive front, which claims to be more sensitive to these issues, is the front that has not managed to provide any opposition, in fact one of its leading representatives, as I said, was the first signatory of that law. The centre-left has also succeeded in another miracle that should be recalled - in the legislature before this, they appointed a courageous, anti-prohibitionist minister, without realising... and this minister, a wise man, a doctor, the father of seven children and a bourgeois liberal (there are still a few left in Italy)... every now and then this minister said things that were sensible and reasonable. On the subject of drugs he said, “Remember that it is not only one out of two teenagers that smoke marijuana, but also one out of two teachers.” He also spoke words of simple wisdom on contraception, and the freedom of scientific research. All hell broke loose! Every time he made a statement, every week, more or less, he was pilloried by all the various branches of his own majority coalition, so when his term was over he abandoned not only the coalition, but politics in general, preferring to return to his research.
In the meantime the ruling centre-left, progressive coalition, which made no changes whatsoever to the drugs law, or to the laws on the rights of unmarried couples, or to the law on prostitution, or to the law on the freedom of scientific research... this government accomplished its best-known miracle: that is, it sent Pino Arlacchi to the UN, with the backing of all the forces in the centre-left coalition, while one of the centre-left Prime Ministers during this legislature, Massimo D'Alema - in the eyes of the press the most interesting, modern figure on the left - while all this was going on in his government, D’Alema said, "I have been in favour of the legalisation of drugs for the last 25 years," - a disconcerting statement not only of impotence but also of schizophrenia from a politician who thinks he can have an opinion and then turn it upside-down when he reaches a position of power. This is the reality of the Italian left-wing, who then passed on the baton of superstition to the current centre-right government. The latest statements are less clear, but they do seem to have one clear idea: that sooner or later, maybe during this legislature, maybe during the next, they will prohibit or strongly discourage doctors and medical centres from administering methadone or other substitute substances that can help addicts not to have to deal with pushers, but with doctors. There will be more deaths, but what does it matter? The principle will have been upheld. For the moment they deny that this is their aim... we will see what they do. But in any case the watchword is ‘tougher laws’. The Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who recently visited one of the most militant rehabilitation communities, although the data on the real success rate of this community are something of a cabala, impossible to interpret in a scientific manner... the Prime Minister, a jovial man who loves to speak off the top of his head, explained that during the previous legislature, when the centre-left, as I said, did nothing, he on other the other hand had seen a dangerous development that must now be stopped: "There has been a scientifically erroneous and culturally harmful distinction between soft drugs and hard drugs, this distinction must no longer exist.” So everything in the same pot, heroin and marijuana: this is the scientific statement made by the Prime Minister, who then added: "In previous years", the years I have described, the years in which the champion Pino Arlacchi, those years, "there has been some mystification, it was claimed that the use of drugs was a civil right or even a need for some people with a chronic, incurable illness.” Another ludicrous statement... there is no need for me to remind you here of the possible therapeutic uses of certain substances. If it were not in bad taste, but then we must tell the Martian things that are in bad taste, too, it would be worth remembering that even the illness from which the Prime Minister suffers, according to the press, can benefit from the therapeutic use of these drugs, but we’d better keep that to ourselves. In all this, as I was saying, there is a never any debate in the news or the media, but always a holy atmosphere that intimidates any opposing voice, though there are never any opposing voices, to the leaders of the rehabilitation communities, especially the San Patrignano community, which is the most famous. So that on TV we get a stream of actors, singers, mothers ... in a country like Italy that loves a good sob story ... there are always mothers ready to appear on TV, and then young people who have come through and beaten their addiction, always a certain success in this real-life soap. So since 1993 it has been impossible to have a real debate on TV, a debate between the supporters of legalisation and the supporters of the current laws, between the supporters of Pino Arlacchi and the opponents of Pino Arlacchi, years and years without any opportunity for real debate. And with the prohibition of this debate, and this is what interests me most, everything is entrusted to the experience of those who look after drug addicts, whether positively or not doesn’t matter. The same mechanism can be seen when the media deal with the question whether to support or oppose war, much more space is given to those who belong to humanitarian organisations than to those who have to make the political decisions, those who have to face the political implications of the choice. How have the Radicals reacted to all this? First of all with the institutional instruments I mentioned, by getting referendums held whenever it has been possible, or at least by trying to get referendums held, and then with the instruments of non-violence and civil disobedience. Beginning with Marco Pannella, 35 Radical leaders, as well as dozens of Radical militants, have taken part in actions punishable by the law as crimes, in other words the distribution, even the free distribution, of drugs, even tiny quantities. So now we can tell our Martian that in the face of dozens of actions that are all exactly the same, the Italian courts have given seven different types of sentence, seven different responses in a situation in which the judges are lottery-ticket sellers and the only thing we can be certain of is the absolute uncertainty of justice.
What, however, is the result? What is the current situation? One third of the country is still in the hands of criminal organisations, which control the drugs market... until a few seconds ago the Chairman of the Radical MEPs Maurizio Turco was here... with Sergio D'Elia and the whole of our movement he is involved in the protest against the special prison regulations, actually a kind of authorised torture, applied to some inmates charged with belonging to the Mafia; and anyone who dares to say that this sort of torture should not be practised in our country is branded an accomplice of the Mafia. What I would like to say to all those who constantly lecture us about how to fight the Mafia is that those who talk about antimafia never, never utter the word anti-prohibitionism: their theory is that you can defeat the Mafia by putting extra chains on a few prisoners, and not by robbing the criminal organisations of their vast drug-trafficking income. The first result is the increasing strength of the criminal organisations: the second is the intolerable situation of our prisons: 37% of prisoners are serving time for drugs-related offences, and 28% are drug addicts. In a situation in which one out of two young people have used drugs at least once, as I said earlier. If this is the way we are going I think that the only prospect is to build more prisons. The government has appointed a Minister for Major Works, Lunardi. So far, in 18 months, there has been no sign of any major works, and it seems to me that the only major work possible will be the construction of new prisons to house the sinners to be redeemed. More drugs, more deaths, more Mafia, more Aids. The task of the Radicals is to continue on our usual path, that of civil disobedience. So far we have concentrated on the so-called soft drugs; at the Congress held a few months ago we also identified new strategies: at the beginning of 2003, we will have to consider more serious acts of civil disobedience, on other fronts, to achieve what is achieved elsewhere with narcosalas, injecting rooms... this is an idea we are thinking about seriously. In this context, how can I conclude? Perhaps with a smile, albeit a bitter smile. A few days ago, as you have no doubt read in the British press, it was revealed that the former Prime Minister John Major, at the same time as he was campaigning for a return to family values - the famous “back-to-basics” campaign - had a long-term lover in the Cabinet, and managed to keep the affair secret. I hope that the Italian government, just as it is appealing to solid values and principles, is not going to come to the same end, for we have already seen one member of a deputy minister’s staff caught red-handed, and then another, and I must say that when I read the statement made yesterday by another under-secretary, who I actually regard very highly, who said that Albania has a serious drugs problem, and that Italy will give all her help, my immediate reaction was that the Albanian government should say: "Don’t worry! We can manage on our own!” Thank you.


Daniele Capezzone, Segretary General of the Radicali Italiani

(Text not revised by the author)