Land has been set aside for the Rastafarian community to grow legalised marijuana, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir has announced, promising the group will play a major role on establishing a medicinal cannabis industry.
Some 60 acres of land is to be provided to the group, according to Weir.
Members of the Rastafarian faith have long been singled out for criminal prosecution for growing and possessing the herb which is a central part of their religious rites.
Rastas have been heavily consulted on the Government’s cannabis legalisation thrust, Weir said as he introduced a bill before the House to legitimise the medicinal cannabis industry.
Speaking in Parliament this morning, Weir said Government had met on numerous occasions with at least two groups representing the Rastafarian community and agreed they would be included in the industry.
He said: “There have been absolutely good cooperation between myself at the Ministry and potential interest groups; I speak to the Rastafarian movement of Barbados.
“I have met with two different groups and I want to make it clear that we have indicated to them that they will be a part of this industry and that every effort will be made to make sure they are included, so we did consult with them.
“Their views were listened to and we had more than one meeting and up to last night [Thursday] we were in discussion with our Rastafarian brothers and sisters of Barbados in terms of how we would go forward and in terms of how we can work together.
“We have already made provisions for them to have access to land as well, so that 60 acres of land being made available in Barbados to the Rastafarian community is the first step towards ensuring that they will not be left out of this.”
The Minister’s comments have come one day after the president of the African Heritage Foundation Paul Ras Simba Rock pleaded with Government to allow Rastafarians to use marijuana for religious purposes.
But Weir ruled out further decriminalization, stressing that the bill spoke only to the use of medicinal cannabis.
He explained that discussions surrounding the legalization of recreational cannabis would come at a later stage.
He told the House: “I feel the responsibility to make sure that we make it absolutely clear that what we are dealing with here is medicinal cannabis and we ought not to introduce the confusion that most people seem to be going through with regard to what is the decriminalisation of recreational cannabis.
“In presenting this to the Cabinet of Barbados, I also raised that we ought to be very, very, clear with this conversation.”
But the Minister also promised that all Barbadians would benefit from the establishment of a medical cannabis industry.
He said any foreign investors interested in becoming involved in the industry would have to allow Barbadians to own 30 per cent of its business.
Weir said: “This is designed to make sure every last Barbadian is given a chance to participate.
“We’re not just singling out one group, but that every group that has an interest will be part of this industry.
“We want to clear the air and let every Barbadian know that this medicinal cannabis industry will also allow Barbadians and members of CARICOM countries to be up to 30 per cent ownership of any foreign direct investment in this industry.
“So that even if a foreign investor comes to Barbados to invest in cultivation, processing, in retail and distribution or spa clinics, provisions have to be made for Barbadians to own 30 per cent.
“So at no stage at all Barbadians will be left out of this.”
He said the industry would also provide job opportunities for Barbadians, as it required personnel in several sectors.
Weir also gave his assurance that the industry would be heavily monitored, with a solid and strict licensing regime.
Licences will be required for cultivation, research and development, laboratory, processing, retail and distribution, import and export and transport, he said.
The bill contains criminal sanctions for misuse of the drug. These include a fine of 15 times the value of the medicinal cannabis, imprisonment of ten years, or both.