Rastas make case for sacrament
The Rastafarian community, which has long smoked ganja, which it refers to as herb, as part of its sacramental practices, is among the groups giving strong support to the call for decriminalisation of ganja use, a move it believes is long overdue.
Attorney-at-law Michael Miguel Lorne, a Rastafarian of almost 40 years standing, said while they have persevered in maintaining the practice, which currently remains illegal under Jamaican law, the time has come for Rastafarians to be allowed to smoke the chalice, chillum pipes or spliffs, in keeping with their religious observances, free from risk of arrest.
"It's important to us, it (ganja) produces a communal healing among brethrens and sistrens and all ones when we sit in. That's why we refer to herbs as the healing of the nation; it really brings that calmness, and that places you in a more holy mood to give thanks to the Creator. You tend to appreciate the little things even more, the little things that make up life, more than even the big things," Lorne told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We are saying now that in the reform (of the laws), we would like to have our Nyabinghi celebrations where ganja can be used freely. We are mature and responsible fathers and mothers; we ain't gonna be giving ganja to children just so," he declared in response to concerns by some sections of the society that ganja use among Rastafarians is rampant and widescale.
"Some of us have given our children the younger green herbs (in the form of tea or juice), especially to children with asthma, and we have seen it work and all of that; but overall, we are mature people, so we know how to use the herbs. All we're asking now is that within our religious service, within our spirituality, that we be allowed to use our ganja, some people use their chalice.
"The chalice is a holy product whereby the ganja, when you draw it, it passes through the water, and so when it passes through the water - no impurities come upon the lungs ..., all of this is part and parcel of how we use herbs, with reverence and respect...," he disclosed.
Maxine Stowe, another Rasta-farian, fully supports the call for legalisation, pointing to the proposal for a two-ounce limit for personal use as impractical in its application.
"Are the police going to walk around with scales and weigh the ganja that they find you with?" she asked, in making the case for full legalisation.
Stowe, who has been a Rasta-farian since 1976, is confident that their many years of cultivation, post-harvest care and use of the ganja have given them the requisite knowledge and expertise to guide the development of a properly structured industry.
The Ganja Future Growers and Producers, of which she is vice-chairman, wants to see the legal amount for personal use raised to at least one pound of uncompressed ganja. Stowe is fully convinced that Rastafarians should become guardians of a legal ganja industry.
Meanwhile, Lorne is anticipating a time when the Nyabinghi celebrations, for which the local Rastafarian community is renowned, will be embraced as part of the wider national cultural expression of the Jamaica people.
"Over the years, we have always notified the senior police officer in the area that we are going to keep a Nyabinghi, and when we notify the superintendent, we are tacitly saying to him that ganja will be there," he shared. "Over the years, I can safely say ... and certainly within the past 20 years, we have had that tacit understanding, and we have had that courtesy and respect, I would say 98 per cent of the time. Is just one or two times you might find two officers want to do something, but, generally, the respect has been tremendous."
He added: "We have kept Nyabinghi sessions in Trench Town, and when it was finished, the superintendent call me and say 'man, can't you all extend it for another two weeks?' He said during the two weeks we were there, he had no crime, had no problem in the whole community because so much people come out at night to participate with us and all of that. Him say, the peace and calm that you all brought, if you want to extend the time, I'd be happy to. Not even a bottle mash. So that is what we bring."