Rasta pot smokers win legal leeway in Italy

ROME Thu Jul 10, 2008 5:06pm EDT

A young man smokes marijuana in a file photo. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

A young man smokes marijuana in a file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

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ROME (Reuters) - Rastafarians caught in possession of marijuana in Italy may now have legal recourse, thanks to a high court ruling made public on Thursday.

Italy's Court of Cassation ruled that since the Rastafari religion considers marijuana a sacrament, its members should be given special consideration when it comes to possession -- and how much makes a drug trafficker.

The case before the judges dealt with a reggae musician who was sentenced to 16 months in prison by a lower court in Perugia after being found in possession of enough marijuana to roll 70 cigarettes.

The Court of Cassation annulled his sentence, saying the amount appeared appropriate for personal use considering the heavy amounts that Rastafarians smoke, and ordered an appellate court in Florence to review the case.

"He was convicted because of the amount ... for trafficking, but it was for his own personal use," said the defendant's lawyer, Caterina Calia.

Rastafari, a religion that emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s, considers Ethiopia its spiritual home and that country's former emperor, Haile Selassie, a divine figure.

Up to 10 percent of Jamaicans identify themselves as Rastas, but they are virtually unheard of in Roman Catholic Italy.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart)

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