A judge in Italy has acquitted a man who was found with 58 grams of marijuana after he said he smoked the plant as part of his religion.

The court in Bari heard the case after the man was arrested in possession of a quantity of the drug in April of last year. Police say they found the 30-year-old with 8 grams in his pocket, and a further 50 grams after they searched his flat for unlawful substances.

Although the judge agreed the initial arrest was correct, he said he was forced to drop the charges immediately due to a prior ruling by Italy's Court of Cassation in 2008.

"Rastafarians are followers of a religion whose believers use marijuana for meditation", the court explained.

Prosecutors argued the defendant should face a prison sentence of one to four months for possession of the drug. The man's lawyer Luca Bruno, however, argued successfully that his arrest was in violation of his religious rights as a practitioner of Rastafarianism.

The man said how had his own prayer room within the flat were he mediated and listened to spiritual Rastafarian music. The use of marijuana, known as ganja, is encouraged in Rastafarianism as it is believed it heightens spiritual awareness.

Rastafrianism originated in Jamaica during the 1930s and has a small following in other countries around the world. The religion and social movement believes that Haile Selassie, the 20th century Ethiopian ruler, was the embodiment of god on earth.

Other countries have relaxed their laws prohibiting the distribution of cannabis. Some US states now allow marijuana use under some circumstances, such as for medicinal use. In Colorado, sales of the drug have already surpassed the $1bn mark in the first eight months of 2017 alone.