Some members of the Rastafarian community appear to be contemplating a legal challenge against Government as they voiced strong objections to the proposed development of the lucrative cannabis industry.
President of the Afrikan Heritage Foundation Paul Simba Rock revealed at a panel discussion, Don’t Panic, it’s just a Plant on Tuesday evening that a group of rastas had initially discussed seeking redress in the law courts after meeting with an attorney earlier this year.
He said the matter was however shelved following discussions with the Government but suggested that now may be time to make the move with serious concerns about the provisions of the Sacramental Cannabis Bill, which was debated in Parliament last Friday.
“This bill has come to appease a law case that is still going to come because if we look at our Constitution and the international treaties that the same Attorney General has admitted that we are signed on to we would see that this bill is also in violation of our human rights, ” he told the forum hosted by the University of the West Indies Department of Government, Sociology and Psychology for members of the Rastafarian community to share their views on the cannabis policy reform here.
Rock knocked the Sacramental Cannabis Bill, which makes provisions for Rastafarians to grow marijuana “sufficient for their use” in the precincts of their places of worship. They must however seek an exempt permit if they wish to use the sacrament at any religious event away from the temple.
Rock, who described the bill as uncultured said it had already caused a division in the community.
“It has sought to set Rastafari outside of the people that it has always represented and it has fought for.
He revealed that he was approached by some interests who warned that “if they [the Government] give only you [rastafari] the right to grow cannabis, gunmen going to come.
“So this is not the 70s or the 80s where there is big respect on the streets for Rastafari by the youth especially. So this bill here has set people against the community and it’s starting in the streets.”
UWI Lecturer in Sociology Dr Alana Griffith questioned the need for the Sacramental Cannabis Bill, saying that the Constitution already guarantees citizens rights to practice their religion.
She also took issue with the Government’s failure to address the issue of reparatory justice, noting the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana had recommended the expungement of criminal records to correct past injustices to rastafari.
“How do they plan to make amends for the harm that has been caused by the law on rastafari who was simply practicing their religious rituals,” she asked.
Panelist Sister Keturah Babb also lamented that cannabis legislation passed by Caribbean Governments has failed to ensure that the Rastafarian community which she said was “abhorred, brutalized, criminalized and discriminated against” for the last nine decades, has an economic stake in the sector.
She said, “A minimum of 35 per cent of the business quota, the export licences, for the newly regulated cannabis industry should be allocated to rastafari with a waiver for a period to be negotiated, that we have an economic stake and would be guaranteed conservation, storage, processing and marketing locally and internationally, as outlined in a June 2016 position paper the Rastafarian community presented to the task force on reparations.
The panelists went further and criticised Government’s plan to hold a referendum for Barbadians to decide on recreational use of the drug.
During last Friday’s debate in the House of Assembly Prime Minister Mia Mottley reiterated that all Barbadians would have a chance to be able vote on the matter and the country would abide by the outcome.
But Rock declared that “uninformed people can’t make informed decisions” saying there was first a need for a major public education campaign.
“So if you are speaking about a referendum, the first thing is that you would have to do is to have a comprehensive national educational programme which has not been done. So you can’t just come and say you are going to have a referendum and we setting up the people again because they have for 50 years a lot of misinformation directed at the people.”
Babb pointed to recent examples of referenda held by Caribbean Governments, saying, “pick sense out of nonsense”, while Dr Griffith suggested that a referenda would be “a waste of money”.