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Some Rastafari supported while others protested against the bills on Monday. (iWN photo)
Some Rastafari supported while others protested against the bills on Monday. (iWN photo)
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Members of the Rastafari community were, on Monday, divided as Parliament began two days of debate on marijuana reform legislation in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

Like the political divide inside the national assembly, Rastafari were split along the street outside, with those championing the bills on one side and their brethren who oppose it on the other.

As the debate within the Rastafari community raged outside, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told lawmakers inside the assembly chamber that, in response to Rastas’ request, his government had decided to withdraw a bill that proposed to permit Rastafari to use marijuana as part of their worship.

The Rastafari Community were divided in their view of the Medical Cannabis Industry Bill and the Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Bill, with some saying that the government should legalise marijuana all together.

‘reptilian agenda’ 

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Among those championing this view was lawyer Carl Williams.

“The laws are not laws to benefit the ordinary man. It is to the benefit of a handful of greedy men, — greedy people in this society,” he told iWitness News. 

Williams, who recently retired as a Crown Counsel, was among a group of mostly dreadlocked persons, some beating drums and chanting, calling for full legalisation of marijuana.

Williams said a particular clique” had “orchestrated” the laws.

“It is not for us,” he said, adding that the group to which he referred is “those persons with land and money and power in the society”.

He said that the bills are to the exclusion of the poor.

“They are advancing a reptilian agenda. It is not about the people. Are they planning to make 60 million people sick? How much medicine are they planning to sell? How many persons are they going to give these licenses to?” he said, referring to the various licences that persons would need to conduct business within the medical marijuana industry.  

“This whole thing here would not benefit the poor man. We are talking about recreational marijuana, the same thing they call recreational marijuana, that is medicine also. Marijuana is medicine in its natural state. Legalise marijuana,” Williams said.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has repeatedly stated that his government is interested in a medical marijuana industry.

He has pointed to SVG’s international obligations among the reasons why Kingstown cannot legalise marijuana.

However, Williams rejected this position.

“Is this government in a relationship with the government of Venezuela? Is there a relationship between St. Vincent and Venezuela? There is! And are sanctions being imposed for Gonsalves’ continued support of Maduro? This thing about sanctions is just a smoke screen to make people feel that the government can’t legalise marijuana. That is a big smokescreen they are putting up.”

Williams said that Parliament has the right to make laws.

Opposing Rastas
Lawyer Carl Williams, with placards, came out out in strong opposition to the passage of the laws without parallel decriminalisation of marijuana for recreational use. (iWN photo)

“Gonsalves would tell you from time to time, ‘This is a government of laws’. But this government of laws is also a government of flaws. This bill that they are going to make is iniquitous. There is no equality and justice, no social justice to be had for the people from this proposed law.”

Williams asked where is the social justice, saying that people who have been planting marijuana for 50 years, adding that many of them lost their lives, have been incarcerated and have been slapped with huge fines before the court.

“Where is the reparatory justice in all of this? You are taking way something from a man you’re going to make millions out of it and the man is going to suffer? People are still going to prisons.”

He said legalising marijuana would be reparatory justice.

“The government must make an apology for the persecution and the prosecution that Rastafari faced in this country by successive regimes.”

‘backward people’

Asked if he is philosophically Rastafari, Williams said:

“I and I are Rastafari. We are Rastafari. Everyone.”

Asked how he felt about the fact that his brethren were divided by marijuana, Williams told iWitness News:

“Those on the other side, they have been infiltrated by agents of the government, selling out the people. This is a sell out. People all over theworld would be amazed with what is happening there with those men in greenshirts on the other side. People all over the world would say that they neverknow that there are so many backward people in this small country.”

Asked if he wouldn’t say his language is strong, Williams said: “Once you are behind time, you’re backward and this government is playing catch-up right now. In 2012, I told them that when marijuana is way ahead in the industry, we, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, will be playing catch-up. Six years later, this government is playing catch up.” 

‘No money … in planting illegal weed right now’

On the other side of the street, among those decked out in green t-shirt emblazoned with “GROWERS FOR MEDICAL CANNABIS” and a ganja leaf was Orlando Charles, of Campden Park, who told iWitness News he was “in love with the bill that pass today.

“I’ve been farming marijuana since the late 70s; ‘79 is when I went into the bush and I stay there for x-amount of time and I still planting my marijuana.”

He said that he had done “the whole works” in marijuana, from planting to trafficking.

“I think in this time, where the marijuana market, the illegal market, is right now it is not economical. No money aint dey in planting illegal weed right now. Man hardly mekking money,” Charles told iWitness News.

He said that one of the good things about the bill “is to get an opportunity for the amnesty, so you don’t have to look over your back, and then, the opportunity to market that weed free without terrorism from the establishment”.

During the amnesty period, persons with illegally grown marijuana can sell it to the medical marijuana industry, if they can find a market.

However, observers have noted that these farmers would have to make incriminating declarations to the government, and have questioned the intent of that.

Asked what would happen when the one-year amnesty ends and whether he had lands on which he can plant, Charles said farmers have a cooperative and lands.

“The lands that we have, due to the way we does plant marijuana, I think some of those lands wouldn’t be able to thing, right, but we own lands.

“At the same time, we see the system setting up the land bank system because we personally, we want to deal with the medicinal marijuana, knowing the implication that’s going on if we do legalise marijuana now. With theUnited Nations Charter, the medicinal marijuana would not be able to market.”

The government has made it clear that state funds and assets will not be used to assist interest in the medical marijuana industry.

Supportive Rastas
LEGALISATION NEXT: The Rastafari felt that the government has gone far enough, saying that legalisation could come at some point in the further. (iWN photo)

It was noted to Charles that Jamaica and Antigua have decriminalised possession of small portions or marijuana.

He responded:

“We are talking about economical development in our portion. See, because we in the mountains all these years ain’t making money and here we see an opportunity, legal too, where we can be involved in medicinal marijuana,” saidCharles, who, however, went on to say that he was able to use the proceeds of marijuana to send his daughter to university.

“That aint mean you going take the recreational marijuana out of the equation. There are brethren who would still be planting their recreational marijuana just like what happening now and face the consequence same way too.”

‘No problem’ with continued arrest for weed

Asked how he feels that marijuana would be legal for medicinal purposes but persons caught smoking it for recreational purposes could be charged.

Asked if he was comfortable with that, Charles told iWitness News, “According to how I listen the things, right, there would be an exemption, you would be entitled to have small portions. There would be no criminal penalty for having small portions.”

When it was noted that persons would still be arrested, Charles, said: “It’s the reality. I have no problem with that, my brethren, because where I see, in the future, I see in the future all these things will fade away but it is a process.”

Asked how he would respond to the view that everything should be done now that the law is being changed.

“Because of the implications with the United Nations Charter and getting market for your medicinal marijuana in the international market, I think it is not a good idea for now.”

Charles, who described himself as Rastafari, was asked how does he feel about the fact that his brethren are divided in their position about the issues.

He said:

“I think it’s through, one, politics, two, lack of information; the level of consciousness. Nuff ah the brethren ain’t interested in national development. Nuff man have personal vendetta with the government and their personal progress. The way I see it, national development come first.”

Charles said he dropped out of school at Form 3 and had to find a way to take care of his children.

“I have a daughter who went to university. Is marijuana I plant; I never work no way differently. I went with Bish-I in Mustique some years ago for about three weeks. Is marijuana I plant my whole life.

‘conflating the two issues’

Meanwhile, lawyer Ronald “Ronnie” Marks, who has interest in Vincy Leaf, a medical marijuana company registered in SVG, said it is good that the topic of medical marijuana is being debated.

“We are hearing everybody’s side,” he said.

“But it seems as though they are conflating the two issues with the recreational and medicinal. I can’t see any reason for stopping the medicinal bill from passing. It’s two different things. You’re going to stop farmers from making money? Farmers have product in the hills right now to sell.”

He said the company he represents want to supply medicine to Canada.

Ras Oba Chatoyer, who describes himself as freedom fighter, and pan-Africanist and Central Intelligence of Africa told iWitness News that he opposes the bills that were being debated.

“… currently, in Canada, the seven largest companies in Canada that produce medicinal cannabis are all going to lose a billion dollars aggregate bynext year.”

“Rubbish!” commented Marks, as Ras Oba added, “Their stocks are nose-diving. Right now, in Canada, there’s an oversupply so there is acrisis.”

“Rubbish!” Marks again commented as Ras Oba continued: “The only way St. Vincent can get any benefit from medical cannabis, we will have to go right through the chain. We can’t ship our raw material. We have to do certain processing here.”

That is not true again,” Marks said.

‘taking off the shackles’

Lawyer Grant Connell, a marijuana legalisation advocate who was chatting with some protesters said he did not think there was anything about the debate for him to address.

“I have always spoken about the simple issues that need to be addressed first, from station bail right up to these matters not ending up before the court.”

Connell said his position on marijuana hasn’t changed.

“It wasn’t medical marijuana. It was taking off the shackles and not creating a criminal out of something as simple as the herb. So all of this, Iwill just look on.”

The bills were passed into law after two days of debate and amidst objections by the parliamentary opposition.

3 replies on “Ganja law reform divides Rastas”

  1. I can understand why or how this could split the rastas, but in the few places of the world where recreational use is legal, it was first legal as a medicine. Medical strains are very different weed, very high in cbd, very low in thc. Needless to say, authorities know very little about the herb. They want to treat it like alcohol, only one active recreational chemical, thc. My experience is that it is much more complex, in a totally different league. It is as old as alcohol, maybe 5000 years of continuous cultivation, breeding and use. A medical strain of weed has a very specific purpose, usually pain relief of some sort. It’s prescribed by a certified doctor in the same way they might prescribe an opiate for pain relief. That is still prohibition. Canada legalized recreational weed October this year. In Ontario where I live 10 months of the year I can only buy it online from the government. I really am not allowed to smoke it in public or in my car especially. It’s grown in huge warehouses under artificial lights, and it’s totally different weed from what I smoked in the early 70s. In the early 70s there was no local production. It was imported from India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Thailand, and Morocco as hashish, very traditional varieties. It was incredible, each very different from the other. Later it was grass mostly from Mexico, Columbia, and Jamaica. With the Prohibition, the US War on Drugs, imports came to a total halt. Criminal gangs started growing weed locally, destroying houses by converting them to growops. That was why Canada legalized it. Why give all the profits to criminals? But there are only large wealthy companies selling weed to the government. I’m allowed to grow four plants for recreational use under the federal law but I can’t use seed that isn’t government approved, and the government isn’t selling any seed. Maybe in the spring. We can grow weed here in the summer, very late harvest. I’ve done that twice when I was younger, but any large field would show up on infrared satellite scans. Police generally get the technology they need to enforce the law, which is why the law has to change. My government has said it will clear all previous criminal records for simple possession, but compensation is out of the question. So what is the impact of legalizing recreational weed in Canada? Zero, zip, nada. There hasn’t been any impact, or consequence of any sort. Government is taxing it, so they make money. Illegal Drug dealers only sell other much harder drugs like Fentanyl which is killing a lot of people here. Huge companies have developed which only grow weed, selling it to the government. It’s tested for any impurities,or contamination, and then sold in wonderful child resistant containers through the mail. No talk of importing from other countries yet, but it’s only been legal two months so far.

  2. Some people use marijuana just to get “high” but, the ganja plant has many other uses. I dare say it might even be a cure for the common cold. Bottom line, the plant has many useful applications besides getting intoxicated. It is less dangerous than alcohol which is legal. The trouble I see is Rastas walking down the main street in Kingstown smoking ganja and mocking “Babylon” and maybe blowing smoke in people’s faces while proclaiming they are sovereign. Marijuana is a soft drug it is not a narcotic like Opium which is also a plant.

  3. Now, after looking at the photographs(above)of the motley crew carefully and even reading some of the picketing slogans, considering the Christian mentality in SVG and the sentiments expressed in the above narrative, I don’t think that this recreational marijuana bill is going to pass easily or soon. Unless SVG decides to follow suit behind Canada(a totally different society than SVG)for political reasons.
    The problem with not legalizing ganja is that people(The Rastafari for surety as well as teenagers and young adults. )will continue to use it anyway and the criminals will be the main beneficiaries.
    At least, if you legalize it you will be able to collect taxes on it and be able to regulate the distribution and sales of it and also ease the burden off law enforcement.

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