Another legal expert is expressing concern about the practical implications of the Permitted Use of Cannabis For Religious Purposes Bill, one of three marijuana bills slated to be debated in Parliament on Dec. 10.
The expert, Carl Williams, a Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, notes that the bill provides for the decriminalisation of the use of cannabis as a sacrament in adherence to a religious practice by religious bodies.
He said that included in these religious bodies are “what they [lawmakers] call the Rastafarian faith”.
“This provision defines Rastafari as a religion and is an invasion and transgression of Rastafari human rights,” said Williams, who said Rastafari is his “livity”.
“It promotes bias and favouritism towards religious bodies as opposed to indigenous cultural entities,” he said on Nov. 14 as he discussed the bills at a forum organised by Sen. Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, an opposition lawmaker.
“It puts Rastafari brothers and sisters and children at further risks of scrutiny and searches by the police.”
Williams said this bill provides for the cultivation of cannabis for religious purposes on lands designated by the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs and for transportation of such cannabis to the place of worship.
That same ministry also determines the quantity to be possessed for religious use.
“This does not give anything to Rastafari, because the bill restricts use to a place of worship or at what is considered an exempt event,” Williams said and contrasted this to the use of sacraments in other religious faiths.
“My mother was an Anglican and when she fell ill and was no longer able to go to her place of worship, the Anglican minister came home and administered communion to her.
“These provisions only seek to chip away at Rastafari livity,” he said, adding that any religious body that wishes to use cannabis as a sacrament must apply to the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs for designation.
“If the minister is satisfied that the religious body will comply with the provisions and regulations, he shall approve the application and cause to be published in the Gazette an Order to say the religious body is authorised to cultivate, possess, transport, supply and use cannabis for religious purposes.
“No right is being exercised here, no freedom enjoyed,” Williams said, noting that the minister may rescind the order if the conditions of its issuance is contravened.
Further, cannabis in the possession of such a religious body shall be seized.
Williams also spoke against the provision of the bill to ban the use of marijuana as a sacrament among minors.
“Children from a certain age in the Anglican Church are entitled to confirmation, and upon confirmation are entitled to communion and that is determination and designation for the church and not the Parliament.
“This Bill prevents minors from using cannabis as a sacrament. Parliament is dictating here in this piece of legislation who is entitled to communion.”
The bill, along with one establishing a medical marijuana industry in SVG and one providing for an amnesty for marijuana grown illegally before the law is passed, were introduced to Parliament in September.
A select committee has been reviewing them since.
Williams said that the three pieces of legislation are at one in having what he presented as the same untoward effect on Rastafari.
“This bill, like the other two bills, also subjects Rastafari to further risks of scrutiny and searches by the police. The Amnesty Bill is only for a short duration…” he said.