By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
LEGAL action from the Rastafarian community may speed up the government’s track on cannabis reform as one group has announced plans to sue for religious use.
The Bobo Ashanti - formally known as the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) - have given the government 10 days to indicate a willingness to grant a licence for the cultivation, possession and supply of Indian hemp or face a lawsuit on the grounds that a refusal breaches their constitutional right to religious freedom.
The letter argues that Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are allowed to give alcohol to confirmed minors as a religious sacrament while Rastafarians are criminalised.
“The consumption of Indian hemp is a sacrament in the Livity (the religion/creed) of Rastafari,” a letter from the group read.
“The Dangerous Drugs Act confers on you the responsibility of control of Indian hemp and the other dangerous drugs specified in the act.
“Article 22 of the constitution of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas guarantees to Rastafari the right not only to enjoy freedom of conscience but also the right ‘to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching practice and observance,’” it continued.
“In the Bahamas, (Rastafarians) are subject to arrest and prosecution for cultivating, possessing and supplying Indian hemp to other (Rastafarians).
“The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are permitted to give alcohol to confirmed minors as a part of their sacrament of the Eucharist. The act does not prohibit the cultivation, possession and supply of Indian hemp rather it subjects the cultivation, possession and supply of Indian hemp to permission by you in accordance with the law which would include the act and the constitution.”
s1 Dr Sands addressed the letter during his budget contribution as he reiterated his call for the country to wait for the position paper from the Marijuana Commission.
The health minister maintained the government’s position that it would not consider the issuance of “multiple licences” under the Dangerous Drugs Act during this consultative period as it would circumvent the work of the commission.
The commission has been granted a three-month extension to complete its work after missing its April deadline.
In the House of Assembly yesterday, Dr Sands remarked the entire country “seems to have struck up a love affair with marijuana”.
Dr Sands said: “Just this week, I was served notice of a group intending to sue me as minister to force the liberalisation of the existing legislation as a constitutional matter.
“I support legal, civil methods of advocacy for change,” he continued.
“It is possible that the commission may recommend changes in the classification of plants from the cannabis family and that we may adjust the legal framework.”
Dr Sands said: “Ultimately the Cabinet will consider the recommendations and opinions of the public and the advice of the commission and any changes will be legislated. That is how democracies work.”
The Rastafarian group is represented by prominent QC Wayne Munroe, who told The Tribune Dr Sands acknowledged receipt of the letter on June 5.
Last year April, The Tribune reported on the Rastafarian community’s campaign for reparatory justice in the form of state recognition and inclusion.
At that time, the government had reportedly held talks with the Bobo Ashanti for several months concerning sacramental rights.
Priests canvassed by The Tribune said they expected the government to follow the track of Jamaica and Antigua, whose leaders have issued formal apologies for the longstanding oppression inflicted on Rastafarian communities due to their sacramental use of the plant.
However, confidence over the inclusion and equity stake of Rastafarians was not widespread at the time.
An overriding concern among faith leaders was that the community be placed at the forefront of national discussions on marijuana law reform and commerce as it has led agitation over liberalisation of the plant for decades.