The Italian Court of Cassation, the highest criminal court in the land, has thrown out the drug trafficking conviction of a Rastafarian, saying the amount of marijuana he possessed was consistent with the heavy use that comes with his religious beliefs.
Under Italian law, using or possessing small amounts of marijuana is not a crime, but possessing larger amounts can bring a drug trafficking charge. That's what happened to an Italian Rastafarian from Perugia, who was sentenced to 16 months in jail and a $5,000 fine for possession of about 3 1/2 ounces of marijuana.
But the Court of Cassation said the court of first appeal had failed to consider that the man smoked because of his religious beliefs. According to the high court, Rastafarianism allows for smoking up to 10 grams a day. Rastas smoke the herb "with the memory and in the belief that the sacred plant grew on the tomb of King Solomon," the court said. They use it "not only as a medical but also as a meditative herb. And, as such [it is] a possible bearer of the psychophysical state of contemplation and prayer."
The conservative Italian government is not happy. The ruling "shatters the laws which forbid and proscribe penal sanctions for" the use of illegal drugs, an Interior Ministry spokesman said in remarks reported by London's The Independent.
"Today we learn a Rasta is free to go around with drugs. If somebody belonged to a religion which permitted them to eat their children, would they give them the go-ahead, too?" worried right-wing Senator Maurizio Gasparri.
Radical Party Senator Marco Perduca was more concerned about practitioners of Italy's most popular religion. He suggested to ItaliaNews that Italian Catholic pot smokers should find their own saint to worship.
The reaction was also more upbeat at Rototom Sunsplash, Europe's largest reggae festival, which happened to be occurring as the ruling came down. "Finally the principle of religious pluralism is beginning to make headway," Filippo Giunta, president of the festival, said. "This judgment... underlines again the difference between this substance and so-called 'hard' drugs, alcohol included."
The ruling recognizing the spiritual use of marijuana is the first in Europe. Advocates of religious marijuana use have made little headway in the courts in the US, despite devoted efforts, although the Guam Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that a Guamanian Rasta charged with importing marijuana could not be prosecuted because his use was religious.