The local Rastafarian movement will need a licence from Government to be able to use marijuana as part of their religious sacrament. Furthermore, members of the community will be allowed to grow their own marijuana “sufficient for their use” in the precincts of their place of worship and they must seek an exempt permit if they wish to use the “sacrament” at any religious event away from the temple.
These disclosures came from Attorney General Dale Marshall today as he led off debate on the historic Sacramental Cannabis Bill, 2019 in the House of Assembly when he noted no using of the sacrament will be allowed at home and that it would be illegal to sell any of the marijuana grown for religious use.
Marshall who had earlier quoted the Constitution as it relates to freedom of religion, said that while Rastas should be allowed to use cannabis, the state had to impose certain parameters since the illegal use of the substance is still prohibited.
“I know it galls some Rastafarians that they have to apply for something, but we still have to protect them from the harshness of our Drug Abuse Act. So persons who are responsible for a particular place of worship can apply to the Attorney General for a Grant of Sacramental Use permit. The form is simple.”
“We are not asking for a list of your membership but we do ask that you give us information that allows us to establish at least that you are a group. So we say, in the form, give us at least the names of people who are also in your group,” Marshall told the Lower Chamber.
Marshall said there were loopholes in the legislation which he described as “not perfect” but that Government was committed to ensuring that Rastafarians practice their religion without fear of discrimination.
“There is a risk that somebody can claim that I am a church and apply but this is not about creating a police state this is about protecting religious freedom. A church, the leader of a church whether you call them priest, preachers, pastor it doesn’t matter to us you can call them chairman …
“Every congregation must have some kind of structure and therefore we begin by saying that in order to benefit from this exemption you have to apply for it because we cannot have an environment where there is no certainty.”
The AG, who disclosed that the Bill has 15 clauses, said the application of the Grant of Sacramental Use permit does not come with any fees attached.
“There will be no fees It would be unconscionable for us to charge fees for people to practice faith …now that is the difference. For a liquor licence you get fees for that, but not for this. You apply on a simple form, complete the form and you will get the exemption.”
The AG continued: “It means for that place of worship we are not trying to determine whether it should be big or small, whether it is at a house or backyard, cause nobody says that in relation to any other religious faith in this country so we are not doing it to the Rastafarians. You just satisfy us that you have a congregation and you get exemption for that specific place.”
Marshall said the law to grant use of substance for a particular place was not new as other Caribbean territories have that provision in their law.
“In this regard, we are not novel. This is the approach used in other territories. We have to find a way to get where you need to be and this is the mechanism that we have adopted,” he said.
With regard to the growing of the “herb”, the AG told the Chamber, “It is accepted across the Caribbean where it is allowed for sacramental use that you can’t tell people you could use it and then ask yourself the logical question which is: ‘Where will they get it from? You can use it, but you have to go down through some back alley to buy it from a drug lord. Where is the logic in that?”
The Attorney General explained: “In Antigua and St Vincent and St Kitts they are allowed to grow it for their own use so we have gone there too. And we are permitting each congregation to grow a quantity sufficient for their use. We have this thing, in Jamaica each person can grow five plants. In Antigua each person can grow three plants and there is that famous reggae song that says ‘well if that is wuh yuh want I gine grow five, my son gine grow five, my daughter gine grow five all we gine grow five’.
“So we recognise we would be saying to people you now have to work out the size of your congregation and multiple by a number. That is absurd so what we have said is in the precincts, in the curtilage of your church you are going to be allowed to grow cannabis for your use in the church.”
Marshall said categorically that under no circumstances should the herb be sold. He also said the onus is on the Rastas to ensure they protect it.
“You must screen it and you must protect it. Because whatever you grow there you are responsible for but it is only for your use in the context of your worship. The Bill also says: ‘Whatever cannabis you’ve grown for your worship cannot be sold.’ If you sell it you commit a criminal offence because we are not about empowering that. We say you can have your religious experience but you can’t grow it and sell it. You can’t grow it and say: “Boy we had a bumper crop this Sunday so we gine try and mek a lil something on the side. No, that is not what we are into. This statue prohibits all commercial utilisation of the cannabis you grow,” the AG said.
In the event that there is a religious activity being held at a place other than the church, Rastas will be required to apply for a permit of exemption. The exempted events will permit 12 grammes to be transported to the location.
The island’s top legal officer said Government cannot allow the sacramental use of the substance at home.
“It may be inappropriate for that freedom to be allowed in the home cause it would create an ungovernable situation which will require us to engage in a nasty exercise in trying to determine who is or who is not. We will have a practical difficulty guaranteeing the practice of that particular religious component.
He added: “Our courts will find themselves bogged down with cases trying to determine ‘Are you really a Rasta?’. Judges would be in a position where they have to ask: ‘Sir, are you a Rasta do you eat pork, do you eat meat?’ It is an absurd position to put a court in.
Marshall said while he knew some people will be very critical of the new law since there was no way of knowing that a person is a Rasta, Government cannot and will not ask for a Rastafari registry.
“We are not going to have any register of Rastafarians. There is no registry of Buddhists, or Mormons or Anglicans There are people who say there are Anglicans but never went in an Anglican church in their life. Some when they get baptise they never went back…,” the AG said.