An underhanded attempt by the Mottley administration to legalise marijuana for all.
That is how two political leaders have described Tuesday’s announcement by Attorney General Dale Marshall who declared Government would soon facilitate cannabis use for religious purposes.
While Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has hailed the announcement as a victory for religious freedom, President of the Democratic Labour Party Verla DePeiza and Grenville Phillips II, President of Solutions Barbados are calling on Government to come clean with its agenda.
In fact, the Solutions Barbados President has gone a step further, warning that failure to hold a referendum on the final decision would represent a broken promise to the people of Barbados by the current Government.
“With all due respect to the Rastafarian community, this is basically legalisation,” Phillips told Barbados TODAY, arguing that the Government’s proposal would destroy the state’s ability to control the drug’s use.
Meanwhile, Atherley made it clear the proposal had his unwavering support, even before the announcement was made by the Attorney General.
He told Barbados TODAY he could not resist such an argument from an established faith community.
“The right of religious expression is established constitutionally, especially in a context where it does not cause harm to any other community or the national body, and therefore I can’t argue with the position put before the subcommittee that looked at the marijuana bill, the position put forward by the faith-based community from people like Ras Simba, and Adonijah,” said Bishop Atherley.
But while the Solutions Barbados leader supports the introduction of medical cannabis legislation, he is still holding out hope that Prime Minister Mia Mottley would hold a referendum to allow the entire population to make a decision of this magnitude.
“There is no way in modern Barbados that can be controlled, so this is like a back-door approach,” he argued. “We are either going to legalise it or not and if we are, then we should adopt the Prime Minister’s approach.”
When drafting such legislation, Phillips called on the country’s leaders to consider the impact of second-hand smoke on citizens opposed to marijuana use and went as far as suggesting Rastafarians be restricted to using it only in teas.
“If the science says that second-hand smoke from the burning of marijuana leaves is healthy or has no negative health effects, then fine. However I don’t think that is the case. So if they are now legalising it for religious purposes and children are now attending these meetings and they are inhaling the second-hand smoke, that can’t be a good thing,” Phillips warned.
He added: “If they were to make some changes and say they are just going to drink it as a tea, well that would address the second-hand smoke concerns just like how they do it in churches and drink grape juice or wine. That does not harm the person beside them, however smoking does affect others.”
On the other hand, the DLP’s President declared that in principle, the members of the Rastafarian community long deserved to have their rights observed. DePeiza however accused the administration of being under-handed with its intentions from its medical marijuana legalisation to the AG’s most recent announcement.
“They need to be clear about what their objectives are and share that with the country. If we are moving towards the full decriminalisation of marijuana, which I do not oppose in principle…they need to state their road map and what they are looking to achieve….State what the position is, and if they are really opening up use, then they need not hide behind a referendum, because everybody is going to be a rasta by the date this Act is proclaimed,” she predicted.
DePeiza further contended: “The first thing they need to do is be open with their agenda. What is your policy initiative? That is the first discussion they need to have with the country. Currently they have a bill that is not about the medicinal application of marijuana at all. It is about growing it, producing it, transporting it, importing it and exporting it.”
If the Government fails to be clear about its true agenda, the DLP President further predicted there would be chaos among law enforcement officials.
“What is the indicator of being a rastafarian that will allow you to use marijuana for your ceremony? Is it that you must be in a ‘church’ setting? Can you meditate on your own? Must you have locs? Can you be a bald-headed rasta?” she asked.
“I foresee men walking in court and saying ‘I am a rasta and this is my religious right. It will become moot if you say to the country that you will be going to a referendum on personal use. They have created a confusing situation,” DePeiza concluded.
Opposition leader Atherley acknowledged that Government’s position could attract persons hoping to abuse the Rastafarian privilege and predicted more people would now claim to be Rastafari, but said such considerations would not trump the principle of religious freedom.
“That is a risk you run, but that being what it is, the fundamental principle is that if you recognise a faith group as an established group with legitimate claims and expressions for what they believe, it is very hard to resist that argument and I am not surprised by the AG and the Government,” he said.