Rastas protest the seizing of sacramental ganja
Scores of Rastafarians protested in front of the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay, recently, following an incident in which the police seized 10 pounds of ganja from an elderly Rastafarian who was on his way to a Nyahbingni celebration to mark the anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I.
The placard-bearing Rastafarians, clad in their trademark red, green, and gold clothing, said that the action by the police was an "act of sacrilege" as it infringed on their right to use ganja as a religious sacrament.
"According to the amendment of the Drug Act last year, it
entitles Rastafari to the freedom to travel to Rastafari celebrations with herb," said prominent Rastafarian leader Ras Iyah V, who is the co-chair of the Rastafari Administrative Council.
Iyah V said when he spoke to a deputy police inspector at the police station, he was shocked to learn that there was no record to suggest that the ganja in question had been taken away from the elderly Rastafarian.
"He is saying that he doesn't have any knowledge or report. The herb is nowhere to be found," said Iyah V, who also sits on the board of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA). "We are not naive. We know the herb was taken away to be sold because it is not here and there is no report as to what happened to the ganja."
"We are tired of being taken for fools because that is how we have to see it - that our constitutional rights continue to be violated," added Iyah V.
Bongo Beard, the Rastafaian from whom the ganja was taken, said he tried to explained his reasons for having the ganja, but the officers instead took him to the station. He said he spent an hour and half at the station where, after much deliberation he was told by an officer to go, minus the ganja, which they kept.
"A man come out - a constable and say, 'rasta, a you know say a me in charge of everything yah now. Take yuh bag and gwaan and left the weed," Bongo Beard said.
The Rastafarians say they plan to raise the matter with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Security, and the Ministry of Culture, and if needs be, with the prime minister.
"We don't want to be confrontational, but if the time comes, we will. So we are saying to the Government, deal with it in the right and proper way. Don't make we have to take to the street because if we do, we can easily upset the Jamaican economy, the tourist market, and that won't be good for them," warned Iyah V.