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Rastas’ lawsuit to be filed today

Attorneys for the Rastafarian community intend to file an action in the Supreme Court this morning following the government’s failure to adequately respond to a request to use marijuana for religious purposes, Wayne Munroe, QC, said yesterday.

Last week it was revealed that members of the Rastafarian community were considering suing the government for the right to cultivate, possess and supply marijuana as a sacrament.

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 was given 10 working days to respond or legal action would commence.

The deadline for response expired yesterday.

Asked yesterday if the government had replied to the Rastafarian community yet, Bethel told The Nassau Guardian, “We have not replied.”

When pressed on whether the government intends to reply, he said, “As I indicated publicly, the proposed case is ill-founded. We have nothing further to add… Marijuana has been a regulated and prohibited drug since before independence.”

Munroe said comments made by the minister of health during his contribution to the budget debate last week indicate that the government “will not be saying anything positive to my clients”.

“The next step, as we indicated, is we’ll be filing an action in terms of a writ to indicate our clients’ rights to establish that they’ve had a right to practice their religion in The Bahamas really since 1963 and part of their religion being, their sacrament being, the consumption of Indian hemp and they have that right and no act of Parliament can take [that] away,” Munroe said.

Asked when he intends to file that writ, he said, “If we don’t hear from them today, [then] tomorrow.”

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.

On Monday, following the announcement of impending legal action by the Rastafarians, Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander said the lawsuit is a “slippery slope”, arguing that “it destroys the whole argument now”.

However, Munroe said yesterday, “Let’s be clear, their consumption of their sacrament is their right. It is not for any government to be telling them that they can’t practice their religion. They don’t practice human sacrifice or hurting anybody’s health for anyone to talk about it impacts other people.”

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