Rastafarians want immediate suspension of jail time for small quantities of ganja
Members of the Rastafarian community were on Monday engaged in protest outside the Attorney General Chambers, calling for the immediate suspension of jail time for small amounts of marijuana.
It comes on the same day that the Special Parliamentary Committee meets to select a Chair to begin work on the government’s proposed Ganja Bill.
But amid anticipation that the process might run on for several months, the Rastafarian community wants government to take steps to put an end to the “oppression” of its religious practices, now.
Five months after Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, took the Bill to Parliament and in the process defeated another Bill put forward by the opposition, the Committee members were selected.
It includes: Nandlall; Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira; Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand; Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn; and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Charles Ramson.
From the opposition side, the members are Khemraj Ramjattan, Annette Ferguson, Amanza Walton-Desir and Sherod Duncan. Nandlall, as the mover of the Bill, will be selected Chairman of the Committee.
The Rastafarian community explained that while government emphasis is on the sentencing structure for persons found with marijuana, there continues to be an alienation of their rights to practice their religion freely.
According to representatives from the House of Nyabinghi, the criminalization of marijuana is a violation of their spiritual and cultural rights.
“It is a sacrament; we are not defending marijuana for recreational use.
“We can’t take it anymore, the time is up,” one protested said amid the beating of drums and the chants of his fellow Rastafarians who held placards.
One placard quoted Article 38F of the Constitution which notes that “no person’s religion or religious belief shall be vilified.”
In brief comments to the News Room, Nandlall said with the Bill already before a Special Select Committee, government intends to engage all stakeholders including the Rastafarians.
“We don’t pass legislation that are without consultation… what they are protesting about is already being acted upon,” he said.
The AG said he knows and understand that government processes are normally slow and the point is noted that the process needs to be accelerated.
The government Bill proposes counselling and community service for persons found with between 15 to 30 grams of marijuana, instead of mandatory jail time.