The Rastafarian community has threatened to sue the government if it does not approve its members’ right to use marijuana as a religious sacrament.
According to a letter sent to Attorney General Carl Bethel and Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands from Munroe & Associates, attorneys for The Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress, on June 3 the government has been given 10 working days to respond or legal action will commence.
When reached for comment on the matter, Attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, told The Nassau Guardian, “I wrote the minister of health as the minister responsible for dangerous drugs and poison.
“Under the Dangerous Drugs Act, marijuana is a controlled substance not a prohibited substance.
“I wrote him on behalf of the Rastafarian Church because the consumption of Indian hemp is a sacrament to them, just like Eucharist is a sacrament to Anglicans and Catholics; and just as Anglicans and Catholics give underage children liquor during communion and that’s permitted because that’s a part of our faith.
“I wrote to him about making arrangements for Rastafari to cultivate, possess and supply their sacrament to their worshippers.”
Munroe said it is his hope that the matter does not have to go to court and the government will sit down and discuss the matter with his client.
“I would hope we could sit and work it out because if we can’t then I will have to go to the Supreme Court for a declaration,” he added. “The action in not doing it breaches the right of the Rastafarians.”
The letter reads, “We are instructed to write and apply for permission for Rastafari to cultivate, possess and supply Indian hemp as Rastafari sacrament.
“We are of the considered opinion that a refusal to empower and permit Rastafari to practice his religion by partaking of the sacrament of Indian hemp would breach Rastafari rights guaranteed and protected by Article 22 of the constitution.
“We request that you indicate within the next 10 working days of your receipt of this letter that you are prepared to issue the appropriate authorizations for our client to cultivate, possess and supply the sacrament of Indian hemp to Rastafari.
“We would advise that we are prepared to and would suggest that we be consulted to arrange the details for the authorizations.
“Please be advised that should you fail to respond or not respond positively to our above-mentioned request, we are instructed to commence an action pursuant to Article 28 of the constitution to vindicate Rastafari right to freedom to practice his religion.”
The legalization of marijuana in The Bahamas has been a longstanding issue, but was reignited as a hot button topic last year as other countries made major legislative shifts on the matter.
Following recommendations by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana, which presented its report on the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana in the region, the government approved the formation of The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana.
As he discussed the work of the commission during his contribution to the budget debate yesterday, Sands advised parliamentarians that he was served notice of “a group intending to sue him as minister to force the liberalization of the existing legislation as a constitutional matter”.
“I support legal, civil methods of advocacy for change,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
He further noted that the letter comes at a time while the commission is still doing its work.
Just last month, the commission was given an additional three months to examine the issue of marijuana in The Bahamas and make recommendations to the government.
Sands said during these subsequent months the commission will establish a website; present itself on social media platforms, such as Facebook; conduct a comprehensive and widespread national survey; meet with key stakeholders; and execute town meetings and open fora.