Sun | Mar 25, 2018

Hot air on holy smoke - Rastafarians accuse politicians of accepting ganja for commercial gains while not accepting their religion.

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Priest Wesley Kelly (left) and a member of his flock, Reginald Walker, outside the church building in Waterhouse, St Andrew recently.
Priest Wesley Kelly reading the section of the Bible which speaks to the 'holy herb'.
Maxine Stowe

While welcoming the Government's decision to decriminalise the use of ganja in some circumstances, members of the local Rastafarian community are questioning the motives behind the decision and are continuing their call for unlimited access to the 'holy herb' - as they call it.

The holy herb is a sacred part of the worship of the Rastafarian community, and it is viewed very differently from the men who smoke ganja on the corner.

According to the Rastafarian church leaders, ganja is only just now being decriminalised because of its commercial value.

They lamented that for years, they tried without success to get the Government to allow them to freely utilise this holy sacrament without threat of arrest.

"Over the years, we have been organising and trying to demonstrate to get the rights for the herb for the church and the Rastafarian family to have it as a religious sacrament, and we were barred from having it.

"It reach a stage now that you have a whole lot of people from outside different countries coming in now, wanting to draft the rights to the ganja as what them term it," argued priest Wesley Kelly of the Royal Judah Coptic Church in Waterhouse, St Andrew.

"We cannot endorse the herb ganja because ganja is what they used to incriminate the Rastaman from the early ages and endorse the brutality, the deaths, the prison.

"In my youth days growing up, if they found a Rastaman with even one seed, it's 18 months, much less to be found with a ganja spliff or a chalice," added Kelly.

Binghi Irie Lion of the Nyahbinghi Ancient Council in Clarendon has similar memories.

"We have suffered the consequences over the years. We have been sent to prison, sent to madhouse, and all these places," he said.


Endorsed in the Bible


Kelly said while he doesn't smoke ganja, he utilises it during worship because it has been endorsed in the Bible.

"I use it by eating it; I use it by drinking; I use it for even medication, too, because sometimes you get a cut and you pound up the herb and use it to heal that wound," said Kelly.

"We have brethren who use it for smoking. As is said, the smoking flock will I not quench," said Kelly, whose flock of about 50 Rastafarians meets every Saturday in Waterhouse for their Sabbatical duties, where they go into a period of reasoning, reading the Bible, and at times, smoking the holy herb.

His desire is that as a priest, he would one day be given the privilege of distributing ganja to the worshippers without any restrictions and for his members to have the privilege of carrying around whatever amount they chose.

While the current legislation allows for the use of ganja for religious purposes, members of the Rastafarian community complain about not being able to travel with their holy sacrament in the proportion they would like since they are not allowed more than two ounces.

"The Rastas need more than that, so the priests need to have the access to go and retrieve it from the planters who contribute it. It's not saying you going to buy it because it's not sell you going to sell it. You are going to retrieve it for the religious sacrament when we gather together to give praises.

"Sometimes you are travelling on the public transportation and the police them stop it. It's a hard task for a Rastaman to really come through right now with a quantity of herb. It's either he has to 'let off' something - as they actually term it - or they are going to take it away, or they are going to arrest or incriminate you for it," said Kelly.


Churches not legalised


While the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 states that adherents of the Rastafarian faith will be allowed to smoke ganja for sacramental purposes at locations registered as places of Rastafarian worship, Kelly is peeved that his church has not been legalised despite efforts to get the Government to acknowledge and afford it benefits granted to Christian worship centres since 1981.

Consultant for the Rastafari Millennium Council (RMC) Maxine Stowe noted that several indigenous Rastafarian churches have not been legalised and believes that this is a blatant message to Rastafarians that while the Government is willing to accept their sacrament, it is not as willing to accept their faith.

"It's a spiritual and cultural ingredient that is embedded in the faith," she said.

"If they don't acknowledge the faith, how are you going to acknowledge the sacrament?" she asked.

According to Stowe, she hopes that it will one day become possible for Rastafarians to purchase ganja for worship without restrictions, much like the Catholics and Anglicans, who are able to purchase their sacraments at established stores.

"You like a rosary and you just feel like you want to buy one, you don't have to show your Catholic card. Suppose you want some holy water and you feel you want some holy water, you just walk into a store and you buy the holy water," she explained.