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Drug offences in Italy: conspirancy, dealing and use

30 October 2017, Nicola Canestrini

Criminal law on possession and distribution of drugs is ruled by Presidential Decree n. 309/1990 (Consolidated Law on Drugs, or "Testo Unico stupefacenti"), which contains the rules concerning drug  detention, drug dealing, and drug trafficking association.

In short: 

  • drug dealing is a felony drug offense,
  • conspiracy aimed to trafficking of drugs is criminalised as such,

  • drug detention and use is sanctioned on administrative level (and could lead to driving ban: please note that driving under influence of narcotics is a crime as well).

Detention and Drug Dealing in Italy

In Italy, the Consolidated Law, adopted by Presidential Decree No 309 on 9 October 1990 and subsequently amended, provides the legal framework for the trade, treatment and prevention, and prohibition and punishment of illegal activities in the field of drugs and psychoactive substances.

Drug use itself is not mentioned as an offence, but possession for personal use is punishable by administrative sanctions (such as the suspension of a driving licence, ban of possession of firearms, ..).

Administrative sanctions for personal possession offences may be 1 to 3 months’ loss of privilege for the former and 2-12 months’ loss of privilege for the latter.

If a person is found in possession of illicit drugs for the first time in Italy, administrative sanctions are not usually applied, but, instead, the offender receives a warning from a local police authority  and a formal request to refrain from use. A rehabilitation and therapeutic programme may be offered in addition to administrative sanctions.

The threshold between personal possession and trafficking is determined by the circumstances of the specific case, such as the act, possession of tools for packaging, different types of drug possessed, the number of doses, the means of organisation, etc.

The penalty for supply-related offences, such as production, sale, transport, distribution or acquisition, depends on the type of drug:

  • In the case of more harmful drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, trafficking is punishable by 6-20 years’ imprisonment plus monetary fine, while
  • offences related to the supply of less dangerous drugs (such as cannabis) attract a penalty of 2-6 years’ imprisonment plus monetary fine.

However, when the offences are considered minor, the terms of imprisonment are 6 months’ to 4 years’ imprisonment (for all drug types). Evaluating whether or not the offence is minor in nature should take into account the mode of action, possible criminal motives, the character of the offender, conduct during or subsequent to the offence, and the family and social conditions of the offender.


A specific offence to mention among all the types of offenses related to the possession and dealing of drugs, is conspiracy for the purpose of drug or psychotropic substance trafficking (Article 74), of facilitating the use of the substances de quo (Article 79); inciting others to use narcotic drugs, proselytism and induction to use (Article 82).


Today the laws concerning the possession and dealing of drugs are essentially based on the distinction between light drugs and hard drugs and apply lighter punishments for crimes related to the first and harsher for those related to the second ones.

In detail:

a) criminal irrelevance of personal use of narcotics. In this case that person does not commit a criminal offence but an administrative one pursuant to the article 75;

The assessment of the destination of the drugs (whether for personal use or transfer to third parties which represents a criminal offence) is made by the judge using some parameters such as:

• the quantity;
• the quality and composition of the substance;
• the use of equipment for weighing or packaging of the substance and the concrete circumstances of the case.

b) the criminal relevance of drug dealing. The sanction may vary according to the type (light or heavy) of the drugs:

1. for "heavy" drugs (heroin, cocain, ..):

- with imprisonment from six to twenty years and with the payment of a fine from € 25,822.00 to € 258,228;

2. for "light drugs" (marijuana, hashish):

- with imprisonment from two to six years and with the payment of a fine of 5,164 euro to 77,468 euro.

As pointed out, minor drug crimes are punished with imprisonment from six months to four years and with the payment of a fine from euro 1,032 to euro 10,329, without distinction between light and heavy drugs.

Cooperating with the police cannot lead to avoid prosecution, but gives a considerable advantage regarding the sentencing (mitigating circumstance).

Drug trafficking consiprancy

the most serious drug related crime is drug consiprancy, which consists in three or more offenders aiming at illicit trafficking of narcotic or psychotropic substances. The law punishes with not less than twenty years those who "promotes, establishes, manages, organizes or finances" the criminal association with the purpose of drug dealing. The simple associate, however, is punished with imprisonment of not less than ten years.


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