Americans tell judge marijuana is for religious use
February 28, 2009
Two military dependents with ties to Aviano Air Base are using an unusual defense in an attempt to avoid drug charges in Italy.
The two men, who have not been identified in Italian media reports or by the base, reportedly told an Italian judge they are Rastafarians and the pound of marijuana they had in their possession would be used for religious purposes, according to an article in Il Gazzettino newspaper.
The two men were driving back toward Aviano from a trip to Trieste several weeks ago when they were stopped at a carabinieri checkpoint near Udine, according to the report.
Officers reportedly found the drugs under a jacket in the back seat.
An officer at the carabinieri station in Udine said Thursday he knew nothing about the case.
Il Gazzettino initially reported the two were military members, but ran a correction after prompting by the base.
One of the two has since been released and the other is under house arrest.
Their defense might have some merit in Italy.
A decision by Italy’s highest court — the Court of Cassation — in July said that Rastafarians are allowed to smoke up to 10 grams of marijuana a day as part of their religion.
The case involved the 2004 arrest of an Italian in Perugia, according to report filed by The Independent of England.
A USA Today article published at the same time stated that it’s not against the law to smoke marijuana in Italy, though having large amounts of the substance is a crime.
During the court session, the two Americans in this case told the judge that the money they had used to purchase the drugs was earned honestly and they didn’t plan to distribute any of it to anyone else, according to the newspaper report.
A Rastafarian is defined by Webster’s New World College Dictionary as "a member of a Jamaican religious sect which holds that Haile Selassie was divine and a savior, that Ethiopia is Eden, and that blacks will eventually be repatriated to Africa."
Servicemembers stationed in Italy thinking about changing their religions should take note that the Italian court decision was derided by political conservatives who are now in power. Possession and use of an illegal drug still isn’t allowed on a U.S. military base and both acts are violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.