Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite is not the most popular person within this island’s Rastafarian community at this moment — and not just because both he and his Government have so far failed to entertain suggestions coming from that segment of society on the legalization of marijuana either.
Last night, Brathwaite, who is also the Minister of Home Affairs, drew the ire of a vocal group of Rastafarians after he made an early exit from a town hall meeting on marijuana after delivering a few opening remarks.
The public meeting, which was hosted by the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) in collaboration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs, formed part of a series of regional consultations which aim to get the views of CARICOM citizens on the treatment of marijuana.
However, after delivering his eight minute address, Brathwaite excused himself from the meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre for what he said was a prior commitment.
This drew an angry response from several audience members, including the outspoken Ras Ifill who, though “saddened” by the testimonies given during the two-and-a-half-hour consultation on the medical distress suffered because they were unable to legally obtain the herb, said “the worst thing of all” was the disrespect shown to him as a citizen of Barbados by the Attorney General under whose ministry “people are getting penalized and incarcerated”.
“He don’t want to hear what is going on,” the St Philip resident bitterly complained in Brathwaite’s absence.
“Is that leadership? That is downright ignorance.” he said, asking: “How are you going to walk out of something like this with the most people that get locked up every day?
“It is under his ministry and he don’t want to hear people speak the truth,” the angry Rastafarian said.
Writer and popular calypsonian Adonijah, who called for a moratorium on arrests for ganja possession while the matter was being debated, shared Ifill’s sentiments.
“I am so disappointed that the Attorney General found it possible to leave this evening,” the entertainer said, adding that while “some people will say he ran away, to me it is disrespect, not only to the Rastafari community that has been trying to confer with him for years, but for everybody.
“This is a national issue and as the chief law officer in this country he needs to be here, and not depend on nobody to bring back any stories to him,” he stressed.
Adonijah, who said he had been using the herb for 47 years, described the practice of arresting people for smoking weed in the privacy of their homes as “state-sponsored madness” and even “state-sponsored terrorism”.
“There is something fundamentally nonsensical about a situation where you can be at home in your house harming no one and somebody has the right to come and carry you away because you using a plant,” he said explaining that part of what he wanted Brathwaite to hear was his wish “to see, as soon as possible, a moratorium on arrests for ganja, because it makes no sense to be discussing legalizing or decriminalizing something and at the same time while you talking you still locking up people”.
A recent study done by the Office of the Attorney General found almost half the Barbadian population had tried marijuana, one in four smoked it regularly, and 30 per cent supported its legalization for medical or religious purposes.
And with public opinion seemingly mixed on the treatment of the drug, Brathwaite has stated repeatedly that he was neither for nor against legalization, but that he wanted the right decision made in the interest of Barbadians.
“As a country we have not closed our minds to the medicinal properties to be derived from the marijuana plant,” he told last night’s consultation, explaining that “if there is some derivative of the marijuana plant that you can show has medicinal properties that addresses whatever ailment that you have, there is an opportunity for us under our present legal regime for you to write to the present head of the Drug Service, explain to her, get your doctor to provide the prescription, and we will source the capsule or the oil or whatever it is that you want”.
However, he stayed clear of the discussion on legalization while focusing on the “properties of the plant and how we can exploit it as a people”.
“Let us be broad-based in our discussion because we want the best out of the plant as possible,” Brathwaite said, adding that “this discussion is too valuable for us as a people and as a region for us to miss the opportunities”.