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Davis: Rastas might be challenged to prove right to marijuana use

Members of the Rastafarian community might have a “challenging” time proving their constitutional right to the ceremonial use of marijuana, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday.

According to a June 3 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, the government has been given 10 working days to respond or legal action would commence.

Last week, Wayne Munroe, QC, said he wrote to Sands about making arrangements for the Rastafarian community to cultivate, possess and supply marijuana as a sacrament to their worshippers.

Yesterday, Davis said, “I note with interest that they are pursuing this avenue but I don’t know whether within our constitutional construct how successful it could be in regard to the fact that the constitution does permit the government to make laws when it comes down to the health and safety of their society.”

He added, “I think the community, the Rastafarian community, has been advocating for many, many years and I think they are on the cusp. I would have seen some of their advocacy taking loose.

“I think they are anxious to have the government look at their issues and to come to a speedy conclusion and I guess whatever argument they think they need to use to get them to that conclusion they will embrace.”

The opposition leader said it is unlikely that the lawsuit will open the door for other groups to request the legal right to use marijuana.

“I think people can make that claim but they would need to establish it,” he said.

“I think the Rastafarian community from its culture and historical beginnings will have more claim.”

Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said the lawsuit may entrench the marijuana commission, which was set up by the government last year and tasked with examining the issue of marijuana in The Bahamas.

He claimed the Rastafarian community may have realized that the commission was “leaning more to medical marijuana not religious marijuana and so they decided to use the advice or the tools that were available to them”.

“To me, it’s a slippery slope because I think it destroys the whole argument now,” Fernander said.

“…We might have to not legalize it in any way because I can easily say that I am a Rasta and I am using it for religious purposes.”

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.

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.

Jasper Ward

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues.
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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