Rastafarians in Barbados Fight for Cannabis Rights
IIn late August, Ras Simba - President of the African Heritage Foundation (AHF) - called on lawmakers in the Caribbean nation of Barbados to grant Rastafarians their rights to use marijuana for religious purposes, as Parliament convened to debate a “Medical Cannabis Bill.” Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, also indicated her plans to put to a referendum the question of whether to fully legalize the herb.
Stop Arresting Rastafari
Ras Simba and his organization have been urging a moratorium on the arrest of Rastafari for the possession of small amounts of cannabis and for small home garden cultivation, saying:
“People that are only growing a tree or two in their backyard should not be harassed by people. So, while the referendum is going on and all of this medicinal and pharmaceutical cannabis thing is happening, in the meantime, people like me still have to avoid the law and I think there should be an amnesty on these arrests. When you look at how the world is going when it comes to their attitudes towards cannabis, Barbados is totally backward.”
A Form of Reparations for Rastafari
Ras Simba told news reporters in Barbados that he would like the government to grant licenses to the Rastafari community to grow cannabis as “reparations” for the suffering the community has had to endure with the criminalization of the plant over the years.
“I would like to see Cannabis become free for sacramental use. I would love to see the Rastafarian community be given a license, and this license will not have anything to do with the sacramental uses but a license to grow a particular strain that is needed that the government could buy and use within their pharmaceutical things and that can be a form of reparations.”
Ras Simba added that the debate on medicinal and recreational marijuana use should seek to right the wrongs done to the marginalized groups which have suffered. He was responding to the announcement by Attorney General Dale Marshall that the government was committed to becoming a part of a legitimate cannabis industry.
Pushback from the Government
However, this past week it became clear that if the Rastafari community wants the government to legalize cannabis for sacramental purposes, it will have to do so in another forum.
Attorney General Dale Marshall said in a statement that the “Medicinal Cannabis Bill” will permit the drug to be used for medicinal and scientific purposes only. Speaking at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre last week, where the Bill was being discussed by a 16-member Joint Select Committee, Marshall said any such request would have to be made at a later date.
The Attorney General made his declaration despite an earlier presentation by Ras Simba, who called on the government to allow Rastafarians to use cannabis for sacramental purposes.
“Regrettably, and it is not my position, but regrettably anything other than medical or scientific falls into a third category, whatever you want to call it; it doesn’t matter what name it is but that is the prohibitive use,” Marshall said.
Sacramental Use of Cannabis by Rastafari
When then asked by the Attorney General to explain the difference between sacramental use and recreational use of the drug, Ras Simba said there was a distinct dissimilarity.
“I think a Christian would take offence to say going to church on Sunday is recreational. There is a difference between what I hold fast as part of the essence of my being, my spirituality and what I do for just enjoyment. My prayer, my supplication to whoever or whomever, my deity, it is not a part of my recreation,” he maintained.
During his educational and informative presentation, Ras Simba suggested that the government should first consider using cannabis in its indigenous form before looking at its medicinal benefits, while he agreed that cannabis could be used to help treat and prevent certain ailments.
“We must speak of the indigenous use of the plant. I understand what the Bill presents is more a pharmaceutical structure where you are standardizing products made from the plant, but what we are saying is that before you get to the pharmaceutical aspect of the plant you have to look at the indigenous uses. This comes with the idea of preventative medicine,” Ras Simba explained.
“What we are saying, indigenous use should be added on to the Bill where people in the community would have the opportunity to use the whole plant as they see fit, the same way you would use an orange, the same way you would use garlic, turmeric and anything like that.”
This article was adapted from reports by the Barbados Today news organization, entitled 'Grant Our Marijuana Rites' - Ras Simba and No Recreational Cannabis at this Time. Used with permission. Edited by Mosiyah Tafari for the Rastafari Coalition.