Members of the local Rastafarian community have filed a constitutional motion against the government claiming their constitutional rights, outlined in Article 22 to express their religion fully and freely, have been infringed upon after members have been repeatedly arrested for allegations of possession of marijuana.
Attorney Bjorn Ferguson said as marijuana is essential to the Rastafarian community’s religion and practice within their faith, the “continued harassment” is a breach their constitutional right.
“The challenge is actually against the Dangerous Drugs Act that absolutely prohibits the possession of dangerous drugs and the complaint is, it is unconstitutional,” Ferguson said.
“In this act, there is an absolute prohibition on the possession of marijuana.
“So, I was instructed by members of the Rastafarian community amid continuous harassment and oppression by the police in relation to allegations of possession of marijuana. We know marijuana is a part of their faith and they use it as a sacrament. Countless commissions and reports recognize this, but they continue to get harassed. So, yesterday I was instructed and filed the constitutional complaint on their behalf.”
Lorenzo Stubbs, a member of the Rastafarian community, is named as the applicant, while Attorney General Carl Bethel is named as the respondent.
The motion is dated January 6, 2021 and in it the applicant declares that Sections 22, 23 and 24 of the Dangerous Drugs Act are unconstitutional.
Priest Rithmond McKinney, Royal Ambassador, said it feels as though their community is under attack as on many occasions their members have had their doors kicked down and arrested out of suspicion that they are in possession of marijuana.
“We’re not criminals,” he said. “Stop treating us like criminals and infringing on our rights. We’re just sick and tired. That’s the bottom line.
“We done had about four or five priests for the last couple months harassed by officers. They kicking down Rasta man them door continually. I’m ready to tell them back off now man. Give us our fundamental rights and our freedoms in this last judgement. That’s what we want.”
Hon. Priest Delrado Burrows said the constant arrests have caused more damage on their families as many have been separated and unable to see close family members.
“For us, we really just try to take advantage of the spiritual properties that the herb present,” he said.
“We have members who have been charged before the courts and get a criminal record. They then can’t travel. We have members who have children abroad and they can’t even travel to see them. That’s just wrong. The constitution of The Bahamas clearly states that every man has a right to freedom of religion of choice and this is what we choose.”
The members of the religious group said what makes matters worse is that the harassment comes even after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced in the House of Assembly last year that beginning in 2021 the records of those charged with small amounts of marijuana will be expunged.
However, Minnis did not give a date in 2021.
The Economic Recovery Committee has also recommended the full legalization of marijuana for medicinal, religious and recreational purposes, coupled with an appropriate regime that oversees production, sales and export.
Hon. Priest Jevon Thompson said the recent arrests of members of their community makes them feel as though they are being ridiculed and oppressed by a system that should be working for them.
“It’s like we weren’t given the opportunity to even lend our voice to different issues,” he said.
“People say, ‘Oh they just dope heads,’ and so we’re placed in a little box because of the so-called use of marijuana. The world is beginning to see that it has medicinal uses and it’s beginning to be more accepted. So now we in The Bahamas are just playing catch up. But Rastafari has been on the forefront from the inception speaking on this – that the herb is the healing of the nation. Where there is a dish of green herb there is peace and love.”