Rasta leaders petition for expungement of cannabis convictions

Leaders of the Rastafarian community yesterday expressed a “keen interest” in expungement of criminal records on behalf of their members during a meeting with the Rehabilitation of Offenders committee, according to the committee’s chairman, Paul Farquharson.

Farquharson told The Nassau Guardian that the meeting was a positive one that could lead to a larger one with members of the Rastafarian community at a later time.

“I thought it was a very good exchange,” Farquharson said.

“Really, it was a meeting that the Rastafarian community did a courtesy call on the Rehabilitation of Offenders committee to have a further clarification on the expungement of criminal records.

“All of them are leaders in their own right because these are from the apex of the Rastafarian movement and they all expressed a keen interest on behalf of their members, to have past records expunged, particularly for marijuana.”

He added, “They want the committee to address their community and to explain what the expungement of records community is all about.”

The Rehabilitation of Offenders committee was set to work in September.

Its function is to review applications of first time and young offenders, who are defined as individuals under the age of 21 at the date of conviction, and make recommendations for expungement to the minister of national security.

The committee will hear applications to all offenses excluding manslaughter, murder, treason, armed robbery, rape and kidnapping.

It can expunge records for offenders convicted of possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply if the offender was found with a quantity of less than 10 pounds of Indian hemp, two pounds of cocaine or 20 grams of opium morphine and its salts including heroin.

Farquharson previously said that a criminal record can be “like an albatross around their necks” and that the committee’s goal is to bring those individuals “out of this valley of despair, into the mountaintop of hope” through expungement.

“It’s a very powerful tool in society to restore these persons who have served their time, paid their penalties and now seek help from the committee to have their records expunged,” Farquharson said.

He added, “I think it’s a positive work by not only the Rastafarians but the committee itself, and we could do some great stuff together.”

The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana was formed in August 2018 and tasked with examining the issue of marijuana in The Bahamas in order to make recommendations to the government regarding the potential reform of marijuana laws.

Last month, it submitted its preliminary report to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, in which it recommends the legalization of the use of marijuana as a sacrament for Rastafarians.

Minnis has, several times, publicly expressed support for expunging the criminal records of those convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana in particular.

The commission’s co-chair, Quinn McCartney, said a final report will be submitted by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

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