While a shepherd watched his flock by night...

Medicinal purposes are one thing, but marijuana received an unexpected recreational endorsement when Italy's highest court ruled that an Italian shepherd's smoking habit could be justified because he only had sheep for company.

The 45-year-old shepherd was caught with marijuana in his car as he was setting off for an extended period with his flock in the mountains of Alto Adige, in the far north of the country. Police found 38 grams (about 1.3 ounces) in the car, and the shepherd, identified only as Giorgio D., was convicted of possession. But upholding an appeal against the verdict, the Court of Cassation ruled that the shepherd was justified in possessing this small quantity of the drug on account of "the long and solitary period" he was about to spend "in the countryside and the mountains, due to the migration of his flock of sheep".

It is not the first time that Italy's most senior judges have chosen to smile indulgently at the smoking of marijuana in unusual contexts. Last July, the court overturned the conviction of a Rastafarian, Giuseppe G., as it concluded that the drug "was a possible conveyor to a psychophysical state connected to contemplative prayer … in the belief that the sacred herb grew on the tomb of Solomon, acquiring its potency from that wise king".

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