Elders of the Rastafarian community today withdrew their backing for the Government’s partial legalisation of marijuana, and slammed the Mia Mottley administration’s handling of the issue.
The Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR) said Government has “badly handled” the sacramental use of marijuana and it therefore cannot support the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill and the Sacramental Cannabis Bill recently approved in both Houses of Parliament.
In a strongly worded statement, ICAR spokesman Ras Adonijah declared: “If you start wrong, you cannot end right”, and charged that while the Mia Mottley administration has been engaging ICAR on the measures, “its advice has in most cases been ignored”.
ICAR is particularly taking issue with a proposal under the Sacramental Cannabis Bill laid before the House last month that specified that the Rastafarian movement would need a licence from Government to be able to use marijuana as part of its religious sacrament.
The bill also mandates that members of the community would only 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.
Ras Adonijah said: “This is most offensive and disrespectful to ICAR and indeed all Rastafari, as no other organization is proscribed in its observance of its faith.
“It is also impractical, calling for members of the faith to leave their homes to commune with their God.”
Attorney General Dale Marshall had explained that Government could not allow the sacramental use of the substance at home saying: “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.”
Marshall had also insisted the bill was“not perfect” but Government was committed to ensuring that Rastafarians practise their religion without fear of discrimination.
Ras Adonijah was also at pains to point out that the bill gives rise to security issues, saying: “The Bill puts a bulls eye squarely on the backs of those administering the places where cannabis can be grown, as well as leaving out of the picture the many non-Rastafari who use the sacred plant.
In this regard, he cited similar concerns raised by the Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn who told the Upper Chamber during its debate on the bill that cultivation would open up Rastas to being attacked.
Franklyn said: “Unless you are going to have armed people protecting your stash, this bill is going to put the Rastafarian community in trouble.
“You are putting them up to get killed.
“The criminal element who want that stash, because this is business; this is for sale not by the Rastas but by the people who will steal it and sell it.”
Ras Adonijah suggested while Government has made an attempt to respond to the urgent concerns of Rastafarians, it erred by failing to heed the recommendations of the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana report, which proposed among other things, that there should be no referendum on the decriminalization of marijuana.
He said: “The reason for the Commission’s advice on the latter matter is obvious.
“People have been conditioned by decades of misinformation, propaganda and plain lies about the cannabis plant and while there has been some enlightenment, a robust educational programme is necessary before the referendum.
“Government has indicated its awareness of such and ICAR is awaiting a date. [We] have already started such a programme with appearances on radio plus involvement in panel discussions.”
ICAR also sought to put to rest claims that it was in bed with the Labour Party administration, explaining that repeated attempts to meet with the Freundel Stuart regime were ignored.
“A letter requesting a meeting was ignored for a year. Then ICAR was told that such a meeting could only take place when the results of the Commission’s report were known,” he noted.
The spokesman pointed out that ICAR first met Prime Minister Mottley when she was Opposition Leader and then after the party took office it engaged with members of Cabinet.
“I find it more useful to engage people, whatever the result, than to shout from a distance, however self-satisfying that may be to some.”
Ras Adonijah reiterated that ICAR remains committed to the “legalization of cannabis… Holy Sacrament, including the right to cultivate and use the plant in all all forms”.
The group also stressed the need for reparatory justice in any medical cannabis industry, including the granting to Rastafari of free licences, “as a means of atonement for the decades of discrimination, abuse and even death suffered by the community”.