Some members of the Rastafarian faith are not at all impressed with Government’s Parliamentary moves to offer fixed fines for individuals caught with minimum quantities of marijuana. In fact, they say the administration’s latest attempts are “hypocritical and laughable”.
President of the African Heritage Foundation (AHF) Paul Simba Rock has accused government of continuing to “give its people a six for a nine when it comes to cannabis reform”, saying that charging individuals was still a form of punishment.
“The Attorney General and his team continue to defend their medicinal cannabis industry while at the same time demonizing the plant, upkeeping unjust cannabis laws, while seeking to economically benefit from the same plant.
Last week Government sought Parliament’s approval to implement a fine of $200 for persons found with 14 grams or less of cannabis instead of hauling them before the law courts.
“How does fining unemployed or underemployed youth $200 for something that might have been given to them freely, or they paid $5 for, help them?” Rock asked.
He also questioned the reasoning behind a police officer being given powers to determine if someone was addicted to marijuana.
“A major problematic area of this Bill gives police the ability to make a diagnosis of cannabis addiction, based on what? Rastafari use herb daily, several times a day. Would these brothers and sisters be considered addicted? If not why and what makes a non- Rastafari person be addicted if they do the same thing? What the youth continue to see is the government operating at disgusting levels of hypocrisy,” said Rock.
The amendments to the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control Act makes provision for a fixed fine of $200 to be paid within 30 days for persons found in possession of 14 grams or less of cannabis.
It also provides for individuals to be referred to the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) for assessment and counselling.
Lawmakers argued that a fine instead of a conviction would allow more young people to have an easier time finding a job.
However, Rock told Barbados TODAY that after listening to the debate last Friday the Rastafari community and many Barbadians are not pleased by the measure.
“The notion that removing a criminal record and implementing a fine . . . is a good foundation for the tabled amendments to the Drug Abuse Act is nothing short of laughable,” said Rock.
“While it is a fact that removing the criminal record that is normally attached to even a seed of cannabis will impact positively on youth employment, the bill does nothing to address just cannabis reform, the false narrative ascribed to cannabis by the same National Council on Substance Abuse over the decades that the AG spoke highly of for their good work, or even the natural traditional medicinal use of the plant,” said Rock.
He said paying a fine meant that even the 14 grams or less was “still against the law”.
“This bill is nothing more than a failing attempt by Government to bamboozle the people in an attempt to soften the violation being forced on Barbadians through their Medicinal Cannabis Industry Act,” said Rock, who is currently challenging Government in court on the Sacramental Cannabis Bill.
The latter Bill makes provision for Rastafarians to grow marijuana “sufficient for their use” in the precincts of their places of worship other than their home. They must, however, seek an exempt permit if they wish to use the sacrament at any religious event away from the temple.
However, Rock has argued that some people’s place of worship is their home and that the bill was infringing on the Rastafari constitutional rights. That matter is due to be called in May.
“Both the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party have caused great trauma on the Rastafari community and reparations are due. The public needs to be invited to properly weigh in on this matter,” he said.
“Ninety-nine per cent of all research on substance abuse tell us alcohol is more dangerous to the human body and society than cannabis. Yet the government is more concerned about cannabis use in the home and the society. This drug abuse bill along with the Sacramental cannabis act need to be trashed,” said Rock. (MM)