A new law is set to blur the distinction between soft and hard drugs in Italy, with steeper fines and prison terms for dealers in particular. Maximum limits and maximum penalties - small quantity waivers for personal use, will also be revised downwards.

The new measures were approved by the Italian senate on Thursday 26 January and have now been sent to the chamber of deputies. The draft law sets out new fines of between 26,000 and 260,000 and prison sentences of between six and 20 years for a broad range of activities. These include anyone found growing, producing, manufacturing, extracting, refining, selling, supplying, distributing, trading, transporting, procuring for others, delivering, etc. any kind or any amount of illegal drug.

The national background to these stringent measures is striking, with drug use soaring between 1999 and 2002. Consumption of heroine was up five per cent, of cannabis 27 per cent, and cocaine 80 per cent.