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‘We will not pay fines for observing our religion, culture’ – Rastafarian Community

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Unimpressed with the progress made to modernise the Narcotics Act, the Rastafarian community declared that they will not accept any forms of legal punishment for practicing their culture and religion.

“We do not intend on paying any fine or doing any community serve for the observance of our rights to practice our religion and culture,” the Guyana Rastafari Council (GRC) said in a statement on Friday.

GRC said it is pleased with the efforts of Alliance For Change (AFC) parliamentarian, Michal Carrington to push for the review of the legislation which criminalises the possession and usage of small quantities of marijuana.

However, it called on the larger arm of the coalition government, the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), to play its part to end the discrimination against this overlooked group in society.

“We call on the APNU faction of the governing coalition to reverse its stance on opposing the process of reviewing the Narcotic Act that is presently doing more harm, than what the detractors claim, in destroying the lives of the nation’s youth,” the statement noted.

The GRC argued that in the present International context where the United Nations has declared a decade for Peoples of African Descent and mandated that this government should take all necessary steps to ensure that, among other things, all laws that discriminate and create inequality for African descendants and their cultures are removed.

The community also asserted that the present Narcotic Act is a blatant violation of the Rastafari community’s Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom as expressed in Article 18 of the United Nations Declarations on Human Rights and contained in Article 145 of the Guyana Constitution which states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; …, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The Council also lobbied its members and all youth of Guyana, who are “targeted victims” of the draconian act, to be prepared to support the process being spearheaded to pressure the government to decriminalise the usage of marijuana.

GRC said it will be teaming up with a group called the Society of Marijuana Advocates for Reform and Treatment (SMART) to lobby for review and changes to the law.

Attorney Nigel Hughes, former Chairman of the AFC, had compiled a draft Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2015 which seeks to soften the penalties for marijuana possession. Carrington had moved a motion last year seeking approval of the National Assembly for the introduction and first reading.

The draft stipulates that persons who are found in possession of the drug for personal use will be required to pay a fine of $10,000 or to perform community service for a period of time.

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