Rastafarians are a step closer to being able to legally use cannabis for the religious purposes.
Government is preparing draft legislation to take to Parliament for debate on permitting members of the community to freely use the drug as part of their religious ritual.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Dale Marshall made the announcement in Parliament this afternoon during debate on the Medical Cannabis Industry Bill, 2019.
He said the decision to introduce the legislation which should be available within the next few weeks was made following a challenge from the Rastafarian community to find a way to allow Rastas to use marijuana for their sacramental beliefs the same way measures are being put in place to allow its use for medicinal purposes.
“I have taken to Cabinet and I have got Cabinet’s approval for the preparation of a Bill to bring to this Chamber which will facilitate the use by members of the Rastafarian faith of cannabis for the purpose of their religion.
“Mr Speaker, for us to continue to prohibit that, would be to continue to breach their fundamental constitutional rights. And not just rights guaranteed by the Barbados Constitution, but rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“And that covenant says in Article 18 (1) ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. And freedom either individually or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion, or belief or worship, observance, practice and teaching.’ The Barbados constitution Sir, which came after the treaty was in place but before we signed on to it, is expressed in similar words,” he said.
The Attorney General reminded the Lower Chamber that on page ten of the Barbados Labour Party’s 2018 general election manifesto, the party promised to hold a referendum on the decriminalization of recreational marijuana, after a period of public debate.
He said on page 25, it was noted that significant strides have been made on the use of marijuana in pain management and for the treatment of a range of medical complaints.
“The same way that we go where science takes us, we have to go where the law requires. Now we have begun some consultations with that faith [rastafarianism].
“We understand that there will be some people who will try to find a way of using that system. But that is no excuse for denying a person his fundamental human rights,” he said.
The AG said that while he was aware that some groups in society would call down hell fire and damnation on the position, he believes it is solid in terms of constitutional theory and at the end of it all, it is “the right and decent thing” to do.
“I am not a Rastafarian, but I am not a Muslim either. I am not a Hindu. I am not a Buddhist. But yet still I acknowledge that those individuals have the human right, guaranteed by our Constitution and guaranteed by all of the human rights treaties that we have ventured into, to not only practice their faith, but to have a manifestation of their faith in the way that suits them and their God,” he said.
“I can hear it now. ‘See what I tell yuh, this was just a way to bring you closer to recreational use’. That is what they said about medicinal cannabis Sir. But I am not going to veer away from doing the right thing because there is a perception that it brings me closer to x, y or z.
“Every time you sell a knife at a hardware store you bring somebody closer to harming somebody else. But knives Sir, are still selling,” he added.
Spokesperson for the Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari, Adonijah, told Barbados TODAY that the AG’s announcement was good news for the Rastafarian community which has been fighting for this right for decades.
“Rastafarians would welcome any ease in the laws that exist right now. It sounds like good news and we look forward to hearing more about it,” Adonijah said.