Some members of the Rastafari community are opposed to the notion that a referendum should be the vehicle used to approve or deny their use of marijuana for their religious rites.
Instead, they are calling for the decriminalization of cannabis for religious use to be rolled out alongside the legalization for medicinal purposes.
From their long-time City base at Temple Yard, Cheapside, the scene of both Rastafarian-run small businesses and marijuana-related police drug busts, Rastafari men and women engaged in a robust discussion on the matter.
While many acknowledged the use of marijuana for physical healing was very important, some say that for them, it is a means of spiritual healing as well.
“ I feel they should go forward with both [marijuana legalization for medical and religious purposes]. You cannot just leave out Rasta and just use if for medicinal purposes.… Rastas were getting downgraded over the years on top of years and ridiculed through school, work and everything for their religion and for their use of marijuana through spirituality. So it would be wrong for them to leave out the Rastas,” said one young woman named Maria.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced to the country’s business community that a framework was being developed for the use of medicinal marijuana “within the next week or so”, while revealing that use of the plant for other purposes would have to be decided by way of a referendum.
Another Rastafarian, Dan, told Barbados TODAY that earlier that same day, his father, who owns an ‘Ital’ restaurant in Temple Yard was arrested after being held with a small quantity of marijuana.
“They say they want to bring forward medicinal marijuana, so why are you holding Rastas? It is our religion. That should not be an offence. Today, my father, Roderick Yard, who owns a food shop in Temple Yard was held for a ‘spliff’.
Dan said that he was tired of laws protecting other religions, while continuing to overlook his own.
“Rastafarians should be able to use herb as our spiritual practice, as part of our religion or whatever you want to call it. Christians get their way. Everyone gets respect for their religion. What about us?” asked Dan, who declared himself a Rastafarian “by birth”.
“Religion is about what you hold true to your heart. You can’t just knock a man’s religion. Black people, white, all people are people,” he said. “So a Rasta should be able to move with a certain amount of herb and be able to smoke in certain places. Christians have their thing, Muslims have their thing, but they don’t respect black people’s culture. I don’t understand.”
As a discussion ensued among the Rastafari folk, many argued that their religious brothers, relatives and loved ones who have been imprisoned, some for over ten years for possession of marijuana, should be compensated.
“That is time out of people’s lives. Now people are looking to say that it will be decriminalized. So what are you going to do for the people who have been held recently? How will the laws function and balance it out?” questioned Dan.
Leather craftsman Ras Binghi called on Government to ensure that Rastafarians are given a stake in the business opportunities likely to be created from the sale of medical marijuana, a sentiment expressed earlier this week by prominent community leader and former parliamentarian, Hamilton Lashley.
“Certain members of the Rastafari community should be chosen at least to cultivate the weed and get profits off of what they are cultivating. That medicinal avenue is going to bring in income, so just split the income fairly from the guy who is in the field to the guy who is at the counter selling it,” Lashley said.
“I sorry that it so long,” he continued. “Marijuana should’ve been on the market ages and ages ago, but the systematic movements said ‘you’re a criminal, because you deal with marijuana’, but that was just a type of blindness that the system perpetuated on the people.”
The most recent calls are part of an extended struggle by the local Rastafarian community in support of marijuana decriminalization. The United Rastafari Council met last month to develop strategies and chart the way forward for their fight.