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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 22:30 GMT
Italy approves new marijuana law
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Marijuana smoker
Statistics show a third of Italian teenagers have tried marijuana
The Italian government has approved a law that increases sanctions against people who smoke marijuana, putting the drug on a par with cocaine and heroin.

Under the new legislation, people found in possession of cannabis could risk having their passport and their driving licence suspended.

The government has forced through this new legislation with a confidence vote.

The move has been greeted mostly with dismay by opposition MPs and drug treatment professionals.

Under the new rules, dealing and trafficking in drugs - whether heroin, cocaine or cannabis - will be punished with jail sentences of between six and 20 years and a fine of up to 260,000 euros (180,000).

People who ignore repeated warnings to stop using cannabis will face a driving ban and be forced to stay at home at night.

According to recent statistics, a third of teenagers in Italy have smoked marijuana at least once, and 10% of adults are said to smoke it on a regular basis.

On Wednesday more than 200 protesters and at least one opposition MP smoked cannabis joints in protest outside parliament.

Opposition leaders said it would be one of the first laws they abolish if they win power in April.

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