Crime/Justice, News, Regional News

New group to fight for Rastas to get right to use cannabis in places of worship

Published 9 September 2020

Buckie Got It, St. Kitts and Nevis News Source

Article by
Marlon Madden

The Afrikan Heritage Foundation (AHF) is turning up the pressure on the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Government to change laws to allow the Rastafarian community to use cannabis in their places of worship, including their homes.

As such, President of the AHF Paul Simba Rock has announced the launch of the civil society group, Cannabis Barbados, which he said would be “a voice for the people”.

“The time to seek liberation is now. We want to invite persons to come on board and join the movement, join Cannabis Barbados and help us with the initiative that we intend to do as it pertains to cannabis education, cannabis justice, cannabis equality, everything pertaining to cannabis,” he told an online audience on Monday night.

Speaking during one of the AHF’s virtual sessions on the topic Cannabis Legalisation: A Matter of Constitutional and Human Rights, Rock said the continued prohibition of cannabis in Barbados was nothing more than “tyranny and oppression”, adding that human rights were being infringed instead of protected by the law.

The comments come just over a month after Rock filed a claim in the Supreme Court against the Government, challenging a clause in the Sacramental Cannabis Act, which was passed into law at the end of November last year.

He maintained that the Act does not identify Rastafari homes as their place of worship. He also argued that while several countries in the region have been “loosening their laws on cannabis”, the same could not be said for Barbados.

The court date is set for November 5, 2020.

“In light of our Black Lives Matter environment, this matter of cannabis legalisation is very important. Jamaica, St Vincent and increasingly more countries are trying to find a way to deal with the demand from civil society to regulate the market. Very often they opt for the medical cannabis option which is, of course, not entirely useful for the demands from the societies, but the first step most take is to decriminalise people who use cannabis,” Rock said, adding that Barbados continued to drag its feet even with the full rollout of the medicinal cannabis industry.

The outspoken activist said Cannabis Barbados would be tasked with “assisting in the activism and advocacy of the decriminalisation and follow on legalisation of cannabis”.

Stating that it was necessary to have the new “grassroot” civil society movement, Rock said it would help to create national awareness on cannabis, ensure cannabis culture and heritage preservation, and provide some level of consultancy and business.

Also addressing Monday night’s forum were attorneys Lalu Hanuman and Rashad Brathwaite.

Hanuman said the case mainly had to do with Articles 19.1 and 23 of the Constitution, which deals with matters relating to the right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and discrimination, respectively.

He argued that both the Sacramental Cannabis Act and the Drug Abuse Protection and Control Act were “discriminatory against the Rastafarian religion”.

“Under the Sacramental Cannabis Act, it places restrictions on where cannabis can be consumed for sacramental purposes, and that would have to be under that Act at a registered place of worship. But Rastas do not have a registered place of worship and even if they did, other religions have a right to practise their religion in their own homes. Given that the use of cannabis is an intrinsic part of the Rasta belief system, they should also have the right to use cannabis in their own home. So, it is really on those grounds we are challenging the constitutionality of the law,” explained Hanuman.

“We are also challenging the Drug Abuse Protection and Control Act, which makes it a criminal offence to possess, grow, transport, sell or use cannabis, and that would also include, at that point in time, for sacramental purposes. Given now that the Sacramental Cannabis Act is now law, that would override it as far as the registration aspect is concerned. So, if you have a registered place of worship and get the licence you can actually use cannabis at the registered place of worship,” he added.

While the Government is moving ahead with establishing an industry for the medicinal and sacramental use of cannabis, it has promised a referendum on the recreational use of the substance.

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