Rastas query need for licence to use ganja as sacrament

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Rastafarians gathered at the San Juan promenade on April 24. – Narissa Fraser

“WHY should Rastafarians have to apply to the government for a sacramental licence for cannabis?”

It’s a question some members of the Rastafari movement are asking.

Marijuana was decriminalised in TT in December 2019. One can be in possession of up to 30 grammes of cannabis and grow up to four plants on their property.

But now, other aspects of its uses, including medicinal and religious purposes, are being debated in Parliament under the Cannabis Control Bill.

There are five main religious licences people can apply for: a cultivator licence (allows growing, harvesting, drying, trimming, curing or packaging), dispensary (allows storage and dispensing), import licence (allows importation of cannabis from any country where it is legal to do so), export licence (allows exportation of cannabis to any country in keeping with the laws of that country) and transport licence (allows transport of cannabis).

Religious leaders can apply for these licences once their organisation is registered under the Non-Profit Organisations Act and its documents say cannabis is required as a sacrament.

However, just as without a licence, a person may only possess 30 grammes.

Once a licence is granted, leaders are prohibited from selling cannabis or “other transaction involving cannabis for money or for any profit, financial or monetary gain or compensation.”

In addition, the bill says “No person shall cause or permit a child to use cannabis at a place of worship, a sacramental dispensary or an exempt event.” The penalty is a $255,000 fine and up to five years’ imprisonment.

Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally recently called on the government to clarify the provisions for the religious use of cannabis.

He said it did not address how religious leaders can acquire cannabis if its sale is prohibited under the bill.

He added, “”When we look at Clause 47, we are told that there must be no commercial benefit, no sale, supply or any transaction involving cannabis for sale, profit, monetary gain or compensation. But not even water, which falls from the sky, is free. So how then are we expecting the religious groups to procure, store, maintain and dispense cannabis, completely devoid of any cash flow, to facilitate a basic access to cannabis for religious use?”

Speaking at the San Juan promenade at a celebration in honour of the 56th anniversary of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago, Empress Q said Rastafarians have been persecuted for the use of cannabis for years.

“We saying cannabis now, right? That’s the big word. (But what we know it as is) ganja, herb, marijuana. Rastafari time is now.”

Met with cheers and exclamations of agreement, she said it is unfair for those who do not practise Rastafari to “dictate the pace of the Rastafarian community.”

“If it’s one community that defended the herb, it’s rasta people. And now those same people who scorned you as a youth (are) asking if they could get a little ganja root, a little herb for glaucoma or cancer. And because Rastafari is love, we will give it to them.”

She said the oppression rastas faced over the use of cannabis has been a contributor to broken Rastafarian homes and families.

“When the king man get locked up and throw in prison for a year and he’s the sole provider for his family, what happens? This is reality…When a rastaman get his locks trimmed in jail in a concrete cell in dirty conditions, what now can you get as justice? This a multi-million-dollar business and Rastafari need reparations due to the oppression of the community due to the sacramental herb.”

“Let us not just take what some minister or bald head (non-Rastafarian) write for Rastafari. Get the law and read it. Let us educate ourselves on what the government is proposing. We have to dictate that pace.”

She added that it was unfair that many children who are Roman Catholics have been allowed to drink alcoholic wine for communion, but the use of cannabis (in teas, etc) is prohibited for rasta children.

“Why should Rastafari have to apply to the government, when all you need is a seed and you plant it, and then you get the flowers and eat it or drink it and smoke it?

“Read the law and be prepared.”