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Italy court strikes down cannabis law blamed for prison overcrowding

(Reuters) – Italy’s constitutional court on Wednesday struck down a drug law that tripled sentences for selling, cultivating or possessing cannabis and which has been blamed for causing prison overcrowding.

The constitutional court said the law, which was passed in 2006 by Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government, was “illegitimate”, without giving further details. Some estimates suggest 10,000 people may be released from jail as a result.

The law was the primary cause of Italy’s prison overcrowding problem, according to prison rights group Antigone, which said that 40 percent of all inmates were serving sentences for drug crimes.

Italian jails are the most crowded in the European Union, with around 62,000 detainees held in cells built for fewer than 48,000, according to official data.

The law classified marijuana and hashish as equal, in legal terms, to cocaine and heroin, raising sentences for cultivation, sale and trafficking to 6-20 years from 2-6 years previously.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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