Even as one branch of the Abrahamic religious community seeks legal sanction for ritual cannabis use, Christian evangelical leaders have denounced the move, declaring it a ‘gateway’ to full legalisation.
Pentecostal preachers declared they were not in support of Attorney General Dale Marshall’s announcement in Parliament on Tuesday that the legislation was coming because it was the right of the Rastafarian community to use the drug for sacramental purposes, in accordance with guarantees under the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Barbados that protect religious freedom.
The evangelists were united in the view that the move was a gateway to legalising marijuana for recreational purposes.
Apostle Elesius Joseph, senior pastor at Apostolic Teaching Centre, declared there was no scientific evidence that suggested that using marijuana for sacramental purposes would provide medicinal benefits for Rastafarians. The community has long considered cannabis as an integral part of their sacramental rites.
Joseph said he believed that marijuana use also led to other illicit drugs.
He told Barbados TODAY: “Once you open it for religious use, who can define that the person who is using it, is using it for religious use and not for recreational purpose?
“Once you do that, there are obviously no barriers to control it, or no opportunities to regulate it.
“Once you open it for religious use you remove all regulations.”
Apostle Joseph said that marijuana was a troublesome drug for young people that has affected their lives in several ways, including their neurological and psychological growth.
He said: “When it is used for medicinal purposes it is regulated by a doctor.
“The amount and how often it is prescribed will be regulated.
“But when somebody uses it for religious and recreational purposes there is no monitoring process.”
Apostle Dr David Durant of Restoration Ministries, a former senator, declared he was not only opposed to Rastafarians using the drug for religious purposes, but added that he would strongly advocate against “any other religion using it”.
He said: “So I would ask that we be very cautious in going ahead.
“We are a very small island and any great impact can have a devastating effect on the mental and intellectual capacity of our young people.
“So I would want to put up a red flag and a big caution sign in going forward.”
Reverend Thelma Greaves from Deliverance Temple House of Prayer said that while marijuana’s medicinal benefits had been proven scientifically, it should also be acknowledged that “it has bad effects too”.
Reverend Greaves said what bothered her most was how would it be determined that marijuana would be used for religious beliefs, and not misused.
She said: “I very much fear actually that this is a gateway to the legalisation of recreational marijuana and that is going to be devastating for the youth.
“Recent research has shown that if you take marijuana before the age of 16, it has the capacity and the ability to damage your brain cells for ever.
“Now if that is true, and you are going to legalize it, you are going to have young people in the Rastafarian religion who will be using it for worship and damaging themselves.”
Pastor Hal Cumberbatch, also of Restoration Ministries, acknowledged that he was not familiar with Rastafarianism, but declared that he was not in total agreement with what he had been told about the faith.
He said: “We have to go by the word of God if we claim that Christ is in us.
“And I don’t see anywhere in the word of God that we should indulge in marijuana or smoking.
“Smoking [abuses] the body to begin with and we are not to abuse the body.
“Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we must keep our bodies holy.”