Saturday 12 Jul 2008
Rastafarians have always regarded Ethiopia as the promised land, but
Italy could rank a close second after its Supreme Court ruled that
smoking or possessing cannabis is not a criminal offence but a religious
act when the person doing it is a Rastafarian.
Last year, the same court declared that cultivating even a single
cannabis plant was a punishable offence. But now Italy’s Court of
Cassation has said Rastafarians use marijuana “not only as a medical but
also as a meditative herb. And, as such [it is] a possible bearer of the
psychophysical state to contemplation and prayer”.
Release, the London-based drugs information service, said that the
ruling was a European first.
The case was brought by a man in his forties from Perugia who was
sentenced to 16 months in jail plus a €4,000 (£3,000) fine in 2004 for
possession of 97g of marijuana. The Supreme Court said the court of
first appeal had failed to consider that the man, a Rastafarian, smoked
marijuana according to the precepts of his religion, which, the judges
said, permits the smoking of 10g per day. Rastafarians smoke the drug,
said the court, “with the memory and in the belief that the sacred plant
grew on the tomb of King Solomon”.
The government is livid. The judgment “shatters the laws which forbid
and proscribe penal sanctions for” the use of illegal drugs, an Interior
Ministry spokesman said.
Right-wing politicians were scathing. Senator Maurizio Gasparri said:
“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?”
But the verdict was received with joy at Rototom Sunsplash, Europe’s
biggest festival of reggae music, near Udine, in north-east Italy.
“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.”