Like many who were teenagers in the 1970s, the Rastafarian idea, promoted through reggae music, was popular. Their claim to follow the teachings of the Bible convinced me that they were not only brothers in humanity, but brothers in faith.
I researched their claims and was shocked to see “Jah” written in my Bible. During that period of my life, I talked about changing my name from Grenville to I-ville. However, I could not reconcile the idea of Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) being Christ. So, we diverged on that one, but critical point of faith.
During that time, I used to walk from Combermere School to the QEH after school. My mother worked as a nurse in the paediatrics department, caring for babies. I would sit among the patients waiting for her to finish her work. She would often tell me about the babies of the Rastafarians, who would needlessly suffer because they were fed nuts.
What distressed her was the Rastas’ insistence on feeding their babies nuts, despite the obvious and apparent harm. I think that they have now wised-up, but their current state of enlightenment was no comfort to the babies who suffered unnecessarily, through their stubborn ignorance.
The Rastafarians have made smoking marijuana part of their religious tradition. My primary concern is the safety of their children.
Our lungs are not designed for smoke. That is why we tend to cough it out when exposed. Our bodies are designed to adapt to different environments, even smoke-filled ones. However, we normally pay a health price that may increase with increased exposure to a harmful environment.
Some like to justify unpopular decisions by claiming that we are going where the science takes us. Well, science has proven, beyond doubt, that smoking is very unhealthy for humans. Further, it is extremely harmful to our children.
To have our children exposed to either first-hand or second-hand smoke is even more irresponsible than feeding babies nuts. It was previously done through pure ignorance. The decision to legalise marijuana for religious purposes is not a Rastafarian issue, it is one that affects us all. Rastas get to smoke, but the public is burdened with increased taxes to pay for their children’s health costs, and all the other social costs associated with the abuse of the marijuana plant.
There are two options for addressing this issue. The first is to prostitute for the Rastafarian vote by forcing through poorly thought-out legislation.
The second option is to encourage and participate in an honest discussion on achieving a win-win situation wherever possible. But that will require both sides to be honest.
Some topics that can be put on the table are: Is it mandatory for the marijuana plant to be smoked as part of the ritual – if so, then why? Can it be made into a tea – if not, then why not? Can it be diluted sufficiently so that everyone can drink it without any harmful health effects – if not, then why not?
If our desire is to know the truth, then we should submit claims of truth to honest research. Truth should be able to withstand rigorous scrutiny. I love the Rastafarian community too much to blindly support badly thought-out ideas. That they are promoting this as a Rastafarian-only issue means that neither they, nor the Attorney General, have properly thought this through.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at [email protected]