Government is using liberal policies on marijuana to secure economic opportunities for the rich, while denying small farmers a stake in the billion-dollar industry. In the process the Rastafarian community is being disrespected, according to Democratic Labour Party (DLP) President, Verla DePeiza.
While large investors line up for grower’s licences permitting them to plant cannabis for medicinal purposes, DePeiza fears government’s five-acre allotments represent a deliberate attempt to exclude working-class farmers. ‘
“The ordinary Barbadian does not have access to that quantity of land for that piece of legislation to have any meaningful impact in their lives. Once again it is relegating our people to be workers for others instead of creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and that is why I registered my objection to that piece of legislation,” DePeiza recently contended.
Despite the objections, Minister of Agriculture, Indar Weir yesterday revealed the first licences would be issued no later than the beginning of February.
When pressed on whether the average citizen would be able to afford a medicinal marijuana licence, Weir replied: “Frankly, I don’t know what the average man means; the average man cannot invest in Coca-Cola.”
Meanwhile, DePeiza argued this was not the only instance in which government appeared to be uncaring on the issue of marijuana. She also accused authorities of marginalising the Rastafarian community in the way it constructed the Sacramental Cannabis Bill tabled in Parliament late last year which allows marijuana use only in the precincts of their place of worship.
“Again, how that piece of legislation is scripted pits them directly against the church, directly against people who are in the illegal drugs trade, pits them directly against the code of society and they very rightly have rejected it,” DePeiza stressed as she backed The Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR)’s decision to blank the bill.
“It has no meaningful application in any event if you tell them that they have a constitutional right and then you seek to hide them off from everybody else. You are creating an ‘us against them’ situation once again. It makes them outcasts once again. We have to find ways to deal with difficult questions. Difficult questions must be faced head-on and I am not satisfied that we have gone in the right direction under this administration in terms of rectifying the wrongs,” the DLP leader said.
And, as the government prepares to distribute the marijuana cultivation licences, DePeiza, a long-time advocate for marijuana decriminalisation, has asked government to move more speedily to pardon those Rastafarians criminalised by the previous system.
She also warned that numerous young people have gravitated to a life of crime after convictions for possession of small quantities of cannabis has left them with blemishes on their criminal record.
“Unwittingly, we have set a significant portion of our young people outside of society. Not just by the use, but by the fact that if they receive a conviction, they can no longer get a police certificate of character and cannot find meaningful employment on the right side of society. That immediately puts them at cross purposes with society. They are immediately out of contemplation for any legitimate job opportunities and that is one of the first paths to crime,” DePeiza contended
She added: “Because we have ostracised them for years, we know how it has impacted on the Rastafarian community. I have put my neck on the line since the 1990’s campaigning for the decriminalisation of marijuana precisely because I observed how it separated young people, not that only young people use, but they tend to be the ones who get caught.”