ROME Italy decriminalised a long list of minor crimes on Friday, from obscene acts to blunders by cannabis researchers, to ease pressure on an overburdened justice system that ranks among the least efficient in the world.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's government said it had reduced hundreds of crimes - including driving without a licence and deceiving people, an offence known as "abuse of popular gullibility" - to administrative infractions which carry fines.
"It will free up courts from issues of little relevance," read the statement issued after a cabinet meeting.
Italy ranked 139th out of 140 countries in terms of the efficiency of the legal system in settling disputes -- well below the likes of Haiti and Zimbabwe -- and 138th in terms of the burden of state regulations, according to the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report.
Cannabis researchers in Italy will no longer will risk jail time if they grow more marijuana than the state allows.
This measure will affect relatively few people - mostly workers at a high-security lab in a military compound in Florence which grow cannabis for medical use.
Growing cannabis for personal use remains a crime, though medical use of marijuana in Italy is legal, if it is bought from a pharmacy with a doctor's prescription.
Drivers without licences, who previously faced up to a year in jail and a 3,000 euro ($3,300) fine, will now keep out of jail, but may have to pay out up to 30,000 euros.
($1 = 0.9132 euros)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Andrew Heavens)