Italy's Constitutional Court on Feb. 12 struck down a 2006 drug law that tripled sentences for selling, cultivating or possessing cannabis, declaring the law to be "illegitimate." The law, passed by the conservative government of now-disgraced prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, was blamed for harsh prison overcrowding. An estimated 10,000 people may be released with its repeal.

The Berlusconi law placed marijuana and hashish in the same the legal category as cocaine and heroin, increasing sentences from 2-6 years to 6-20 years. Now that it has been struck down, the prior law will resume effect. Italy has the most crowded prison system in the European Union, with around 62,000 held in cells built for fewer than 48,000. Prison rights group Antigone found that 40% of all inmates in Italy are serving sentences for drug crimes. Franco Corleone of the human rights group Society of Reason applauded the ruling, telling Reuters: "The so-called drug war as conceived in North America has been lost and it's time to return to rational rules that distinguish between substances." 

The ruling comes just as Berlusconi went on trial in Naples on corruption charges -- although he failed to attend the opening session. Berlusconi was already stripped of his Senate seat for a tax fraud conviction last year, and still faces a prison sentence in that case. He may also face trial on charges that he paid showgirls to lie about his dalliance with an underage prostitute in the notorious "bunga bunga" case.