In Jamaica, Rastas ready for legal pot

Jamaica Rasta Rights

Taking a deep draw on a pipe that glows with burning marijuana, reggae luminary Bunny Wailer gives a satisfied grin through a haze of aromatic smoke in his yard painted in the red, green, gold and black colours of his Rastafarian faith, Asutralia’s Sky News reports.

These days, the baritone singer from the legendary Wailers, the group he formed in 1963 with late superstars Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, has reason to feel good.

There is unprecedented traction building in Jamaica to decriminalise pot, meaning the dreadlocked Wailer and other adherents of Rastafari – a homegrown spiritual movement that considers the drug divine – may soon be able to smoke without fear of arrest.

‘Rastas have treated marijuana as something legal all along, even though we have been sent to prison for using the herb in our prayer. But this is the time for all these pressures to stop. The world is catching up now,’ the 67-year-old three-time Grammy winner said at his modest Kingston home.

Jamaica is known internationally for its marijuana. The hardy plant grows easily on the tropical Caribbean island, where its use is culturally entrenched despite being legally banned for 100 years.

Cultivation is kept hidden, with small patches tucked into mountainsides, in swamps and between rows of other crops. Wailer, himself, was convicted of possession in 1967 and did more than a year of hard labour.

Previous moves to decriminalise the drug failed to advance mainly because officials feared they would violate international treaties and bring sanctions from Washington.

But now, with a number of US states relaxing their marijuana laws – Colorado and Washington even allow recreational use – Jamaica is rethinking its position.

Justice Minister Mark Golding says Jamaica’s Cabinet has approved a plan to decriminalise marijuana, including for religious purposes, and legislators are expected to authorise it before the end of the year.

Freedom to use marijuana for religious worship is one of various amendments to Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act supported by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s administration.

Her ministers also have proposed unclogging courts by decriminalising small amounts of weed for personal use.

The main hope is that a regulated medical marijuana and scientific research sector could help draw investments to the cash-strapped island, which is labouring under its latest loan program with the International Monetary Fund.

Rasta adherents say use of the ‘holy herb’ induces a meditative state that brings them closer to the divine.

For many, Jamaica’s decriminalisation plans signal a crucial victory after decades of struggle.

The momentum building ‘presents a major step forward for the recognition of the religious rights and expression of Rastafari,’ said Anta Anthony Merritt, a Rastafarian priest who is a faculty member at San Diego State University.

Wailer said Rastas had been hassled for years, ‘getting criminalised and locked up for using the herb’.

‘But things are changing because ganja is what the world needs now,’ he said, before taking another appreciative toke from his pipe.

For the original report go to http://www.skynews.com.au/news/offbeat/2014/09/15/in-jamaica–rastas-ready-for-legal-pot.html#sthash.tt16PHiJ.dpuf

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