Marijuana legalization is spreading throughout the world. Recently, Rastafari living on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda have been given the right to use marijuana in religious ceremonies. They are celebrating their freedom of worship.
New Laws Regarding Rastafari Using Marijuana in Religious Ceremonies
Rastafarians often use marijuana in religious ceremonies because they feel it brings them closer to their god Haile Selassie I. For decades, many people living on the small twin islands of Antigua and Antigua have been jailed and were subject to racial and religious profiling for using cannabis.
The government is now changing things making the islands the first of the Caribbean nations to grant Rastafari the right to grow and use marijuana in religious ceremonies.
“We are free now,” said Ras Tashi, a member of the Rase Freeman Foundation for the Unification of Rastafari. Tashi has been arrested several times for growing cannabis but refused to plead guilty to producing “a God-given plant”.
He celebrated his newfound freedom to use marijuana in religious ceremonies by leading a ceremony on the foundation’s farm. He puffed on a cornhusk-wrapped joint while others passed around cannabis-filled pipes while waving Rastafari flags.
“The government gives us our religious rights… we can come and plant any amount of marijuana… and no police can come and take up any plant. We fight for that right- and we get that right,” Tashi said.
The new law also decriminalized the use of marijuana on the islands. It allows all residents to grow four cannabis plants and possess up to 15 grams.
Rastafarians in other regions are pushing for similar freedoms. Experts feel the reform in Antigua and Barbuda could open doors for allowing marijuana in religious ceremonies on a global level.
The History of Rastafari Using Marijuana in Religious Ceremonies
Marijuana first came to the Caribbean when indentured servants brought it to Jamaica in the 19th century. It became a popular medicinal remedy.
The Rastafarian movement didn’t start until years later, in the 1930s. It became more popular through music. Artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh brought it to the masses.
The religion rejects materialism and embraces unprocessed, vegetarian foods. They do not tend to their hair allowing it to grow into long dreadlocks.
Many were looked down upon in the Caribbean Islands due to their nappy hair and their religious use of marijuana. Adult Rastafari were often chased down and locked up by police. Children were not allowed in schools due to their unkempt hair.
Antiguan prime minister Alfonso Browne is an advocate for Rastafarian rights. As a child, he was raised by Rastafarians who helped his family considering his mother’s mental illness.
Upon gaining office, he appointed the late Rastafari leader Ras Frank-I as ambassador to Ethiopia.
He publicly apologized to the Rastafari people for the injustices they suffered. He has made efforts to give Rastafarians a stake in the economic benefits of medical marijuana production to make up “for the wrongs inflicted on this significant minority group in our countries”. He also helped build a Rastafarian-run public school and launched efforts toward decriminalization.
The prime minister also met with Rastafari groups earlier this year granting them licenses that would give them the authority to grow marijuana for religious purposes.
“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 said during the meeting. “I want to encourage you to stand your ground (and) continue to exercise that resilience.”
Could Rastafari Gaining Rights to Use Marijuana in Religious Ceremonies Open Doors in Other Regions?
Some conservative politicians and leaders in the Caribbean region have opposed Rastafari gaining the right to use marijuana in religious ceremonies. But many are praising Browne’s actions and say he could be setting a global example.
Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands have previously granted rights to Rastafari to use marijuana in religious ceremonies. But Charles Prices, a professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University who focuses on Rastafari identity, says the reform in Antigua and Barbuda could lead to the sacramental acceptance of cannabis on other islands.
They have become “test cases for the rest of the Caribbean,” he said. “They’ll suggest the viability of this…so other nations can now look to these two nations and say, ‘Ah, they’ve done it’,” Price says.
Rastafari Leaders Weigh in on the Legalization of Marijuana in Religious Ceremonies
Ras Kiyode Erasto, chairman of Ras Freeman, one of the islands’ prominent Rastafari groups, weighed in on the legalization of marijuana in religious ceremonies. “The attitude has dramatically changed and it’s more in a positive light,” he said.
He recalled being bullied as a child. He remembered his mother cutting his dreadlocks so he could attend school.
“It was sad. I loved my locks as a child,” he said.
He described dreadlocks as an “antenna towards the cosmos,” connecting us to “the planets, the sun, the moon, it’s the transmission receiver towards messages out there that come to us in a spiritual sense.”
Erasto participated in protests to repeal the “Rasta Law” in the British Virgin Islands which ordered immigration authorities to deny entry to non-resident Rastafarian and “hippies”. The 1980s law was finally repealed after being on the books for over 20 years.
He also joined marches to demand fair rights for his community. He traveled to other islands to attend Caribbean Rastafari Organization conferences advocating the use of marijuana in religious ceremonies.
“We see it as a medicine, a food source. We see it as a sacrament. It aids us in meditation and (to) tap into consciousness. To deprive us of our food, of our medicine, we saw that as being unjust. We had to stand up and fight over the years.”