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Re-open cannabis debate, hurt mafia, says ex-health minister

Ban on marijuana doesn't work, says top oncologist Veronesi

20 February, 15:22
Re-open cannabis debate, hurt mafia, says ex-health minister (ANSA) - Rome, February 20 - It's time that Italy re-opened the debate on liberalizing marijuana use, to cut out drug traffickers, permit its medical use, while acknowledging the current ban doesn't work, former health minister Umberto Veronesi said Thursday.

In an opinion article published in La Repubblica newspaper, Veronesi, a prominent oncologist, said that liberalizing the drug would take away power from the mafia and other criminals who now profit greatly from its cultivation and sale.

It would make marijuana more safe for users, including those who need it for pain relief, added Veronesi, whose comments come amid debate about Italy's illegal-drug laws.

That debate was triggered earlier this month when Italy's Constitutional Court threw out as "illegitimate" a 2005 law that equates the possession of soft drugs to heavy drugs and has been blamed as a contributing factor to severe overcrowding in Italian prisons.

The so-called Fini-Giovanardi law, which had been passed by then-premier Silvio Berlusconi's government, had been challenged several times since its inception before this definitive ruling.

"It's time to overcome the ideological barriers and admit that a ban does nothing to reduce consumption," wrote Veronesi, an advocate of cancer prevention and treatment.

Veronesi referred to decisions to liberalize marijuana use in other European countries including Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The effect, he said, is usually that liberalization does not increase use but does cut down on overdoses and drug-related crime.

Evidence has been seen in other areas where criminal organizations have taken hold, and with other kinds of drugs, he said.

"According to many experts, extending liberalization has brought to their knees major traffickers and (criminal groups) that rely on the drug trade such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Colombian cartels in South America...With us, the mafia".

Part of the liberalization process must include an element of education, to teach that even if the drug is not illegal, it has negative effects for the individual and his health and for society, added Veronesi.

His comments triggered a swift reaction, with the head of Italy's association of forensic toxicologists (Gtfi) saying that marijuana was too dangerous to be liberalized. Cannabis "is a dangerous drug," that can cause neurological damage that is often under-estimated, said Elisabetto Bertolt.

Senator Maurizio Gaspari, a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) party, said that Veronesi was mistaken to think that changing drug laws would hurt the mafia.

As well, "the effects of marijuana use are devastating," said Gaspari.

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