Rastafari granted Marijuana sacramental rights
The Commonwealth country of Antigua and Barbuda has granted the local Rastafari community the right to grow marijuana for sacramental purposes.
It's the first Caribbean country to authorize the cultivation of marijuana used by Rastafari followers after decades of persecution they have suffered.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda passed the law in early March, with Prime Minister Gaston Browne granting the use of marijuana for the sacrament to the Rastafari group in the country.
"We have adopted many European and non-European religions, and we have a Pan-African religion … and instead of embracing it, we have sought to destroy it," Browne told Rastafari members in March, as reported by the Associated Press.
Under the new regulations, individuals over 18 can possess a maximum of 15 grams of marijuana, while no more than four marijuana plants can be grown in each household, regardless of their faith.
Granting the Rastafari community the right to use marijuana for sacramental purposes is a step forward in recognizing their religious movement within the country.
Prime Minister Browne has personal memories with the Rastafari community in the country.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Prime Minister Browne shared his experiences as a witness of persecution of the Rastafari members in the country.
He recounted that he saw police chasing and arresting adult Rastafari people while children with Rastafari hairstyles were not allowed to attend schools.
Browne also fondly remembered how members of the Rastafari community generously provided him with nourishing "Ital" food, which is part of their religious and vegetarian/vegan-based diet. This support was significant during the challenging times when his single mother, who had a mental illness, faced difficulties raising him and his siblings.
"They embraced me […] I was always socialized to embrace Rastafari," he said.
After Browne took office in 2014, he appointed Ras Frank-I, the late respected Rastafari leader, ambassador to Ethiopia.
In 2018, Browne publicly apologized to the Rastafari community for the oppression and religious persecution they suffered.
He also expressed the view that the Rastafari community should have a share in the production and economic advantages stemming from medicinal marijuana as a form of reparations "for the injustices imposed on this important minority group in our nations."
Furthermore, his government actively supported the establishment of a public school operated by the Rastafari community and led initiatives to decriminalize the use of marijuana.
While marijuana has not been fully legalized, the government decriminalized the possession of up to 15 grams for personal use in 2018. However, it did not eliminate legal consequences for its sale.
Ras Tashi, a member of the Ras Freeman Foundation for the Unification of Rastafari, expressed his perspective by stating, "We're more free now."
Despite facing multiple arrests for cultivating marijuana, Ras Tashi chose not to plead guilty because he believes that marijuana is a plant bestowed by God.
For many years, individuals practicing the Rastafari religion and participating in its political movement have faced persecution and imprisonment due to their ceremonial use of marijuana.
Rastafari, or Rastafarianism, is a religious and political movement that originated in Jamaica in the 1930s. It combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and pan-African political awareness.
Rastafari members view themselves as African exiles in Babylon, enduring trials from God, such as slavery and injustice.
They anticipate liberation and their return to Africa, particularly Ethiopia, which they consider the homeland and dwelling place of God.
Some Rastas believe Emperor Haile Selassie I is the Second Coming of Christ. They challenge the King James Version of the Bible, seeking spiritual enlightenment through a personal connection with God.
Rastafari is known for its distinctive lifestyle, including dreadlocks, wearing red, green, gold, and black, and following a natural vegetarian diet. They engage in prayer, ganja smoking for meditation, and all-night drumming ceremonies.
Reggae music, which emerged from the Rastafari movement, was popularized by Bob Marley, Burning Spear, and Peter Tosh all over the world, who frequently refer to Rastafari doctrine in their songs.
Rastafari communities in other parts of the world are advocating for similar religious protections.
As reported by the Associated Press, experts believe that the law in Antigua and Barbuda could help these efforts around the world at a time when more people and governments are starting to support the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.
In fact, Jamaica, and, most recently, the U.S. Virgin Islands granted sacramental rights to marijuana.