Rasta smoker wins Italian case on religious grounds
ROME (AP) — If you’re a Rastafarian in Italy, you might be able to possess more marijuana than the law allows everyone else.
Italy’s highest criminal court has ruled that the fact Rastafarians consider marijuana use a religious sacrament should be taken into account if they are tried on trafficking charges, lawyers in a recent case and news reports said Friday.
Smoking pot in Italy is not a crime, but being caught with amounts considered too large for personal use can bring charges of trafficking.
The Court of Cassation threw out the drug trafficking conviction of a 44-year-old Italian Rastafarian, ruling that the amount he possessed was in line with the heavy use that comes with his religious beliefs.
The court annulled a 16-month jail sentence the defendant was given in 2004, defense lawyer Caterina Calia said.
Calia said she had not seen the court’s official explanation, deposited in court offices Thursday, for its ruling, so she declined to give details.
But Italian news organizations quoted widely from the court document.
Rastafarians “use marijuana not only as a medicinal … but also as a possible way to obtain the psycho-physical state contemplation aims for during prayer,” Turin daily La Stampa quoted the document as saying. “Belonging to that religion … followers (must) use the sacred grass daily, up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) a day for person.”
Rastafarians worship Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, who died in 1975, as a god. They preach unity with nature and smoke marijuana as a sacrament.
The Italian Health Ministry described the ruling as “disturbing.”
Marijuana use in Rastafarian worship
Marijuana is regarded as a herb of religious significance. It is used in Rastafari reasoning sessions, which are communal meetings involving meditation.
According to Leonard Barrett, Rastafarians first began using Marijuana in reaction to the treatment of blacks in society. It became a reactionary device to enable freedom from the establishment. (Leonard Barrett, The Rastafarians, The Dreadlocks of Jamaica p. 129)
Marijuana is used by Rastafarians to heighten feelings of community and to produce visions of a religious and calming nature.
Rastafarians are unlikely to refer to the substance as marijuana; they usually describe it as the wisdom weed or the holy herb.
The latter name is used because Rastafarians believe that marijuana use is sacred, following biblical texts justifying its use:
He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the services of man.Psalm 104:14
…thou shalt eat the herb of the field.Genesis 3.18
…eat every herb of the land.Exodus 10:12
Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.Proverbs 15:17
The use of marijuana is a highly ritualised act, and before it is used a prayer is uttered by all:
Glory be to the father and to the maker of creation. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be World without end: Jah Rastafari: Eternal God Selassie I.
The marijuana is rolled into a cigarette or placed into a chillum pipe. When smoked it is inhaled deeply, then held, as the devotee enters into a trance-like state.