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Editorial: Mark Golding's ganja salute to the rebels

Published:Tuesday | December 22, 2015 | 12:14 PM

MARK GOLDING, Jamaica’s justice minister, may have become high by inhaling more than two ounces of the good stuff – populism, that is

. Last week’s announcement of marijuana-exemption status for the Rastafarian-themed Rebel Salute stage show may be viewed – and with good reason – as the co-opting of the Government to render toothless its own legislation banning smoking in public spaces.

The exemption, in effect, prevents police personnel from stopping patrons from creating a mass fog by lighting up ganja cigarettes, which seems to be part of the publicity stunt cranked up by convener of the music festival Tony Rebel.

“Those who have never seen weed yet, we will have lots of it,” said Tony Rebel at last week’s launch.

We believe that Mr Golding has been most elastic – wilfully or naively – in stretching the definition of Rebel Salute as a religious observance of the Rastafarian faith. The show, which is now in its 23rd staging, is organised by a Rastafarian, and a significant segment of its performers and patrons are adherents of the religion. But let’s be frank. Rebel Salute is far more than a meditation, or ‘I-ditation’, session for Rastas, despite the weed-induced haze within which Tony Rebel would like to shroud it. Rebel Salute is a birthday bash and stage show – plain and simple.

The justice minister’s salute to mass public smoking – as is implicit in his decision – may be misinterpreted as giving a free pass for a massive, cavalier pot party with Rasta and non-Rasta hippies lighting a ganja bonfire as cars and vans roll in with trunks loaded with green gold. It may also set a precedent for other party promoters to make an ass of the law by fronting a Rastafarian veneer for what is really secular hedonism.

What makes the exemption decision even more galling is that it flies in the face of legislation piloted by the former health minister, Fenton Ferguson, which was predicated on public health concerns and aligning Jamaica’s laws with international conventions and best standards.

Lest it be forgotten, smoking at entertainment events, even on privately held property, is in contravention of Jamaican law. This was factored into the legislation to preserve individuals’ right not to have secondhand smoke wafting into their nostrils, something that escapes the flippancy of Tony Rebel.

The suggestion that there will be a Herb Kerb buffer zone is cold comfort, considering that Rebel Salute has always facilitated the unmitigated flouting of ganja-possession laws, something that the justice minister admitted recently. (“What has been going on informally can now go on legitimately,” said Golding, to much laughter).

Mr Golding’s and the Government’s lighthearted attitude to public smoking at entertainment events might well win them votes or lessen the likelihood for artistes to ‘bun a fire on Babylon’, but the authorities appear to be undermining important public-health legislation for populist benefit, and eroding police authority.

To be clear, this newspaper has for years been an unapologetic supporter of the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana for private use, but that endorsement does not extend to a free-for-all.

Mr Golding would do well to prove his commitment to the anti-smoking legislation by announcing whether the police force has been furnished with the long-awaited ticket books to rein in offenders and to detail the funds spent on public education programmes launched in 2015 to raise awareness of the perils of smoking.