Rastas rally for legalisation of ganja

BY NADINE WILSON Observer staff reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 21, 2014

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MEMBERS of the Rastarian community yesterday braved the scorching sun as they marched from Half-Way-Tree to Trench Town in Kingston, as they joined the growing call for the legalisation of marijuana.

The group, which had gathered early at Mandela Park for what was dubbed a "Ganja Legalise It Day March and Motorcade", left Half-Way-Tree just after 10:00 am as they made their way to St William Grant Park in downtown Kingston, and then to the Trench Town Culture Park for a rally. The event, which was organised by Solomonic Productions and the Rastafarian Millennium Council, was well supported by the Rastarians who were adorned in their green, yellow and red while chanting "Jah Rastafari" and "Free up the ganja", some carrying the Ethiopian flag.

One of the organisers, Maxine Stowe, said the Rastarians hope to be at the forefront of the discussion on ganja going forward, given the significance of the plant in their culture. Earlier this month, there was the official launch of the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association which comprises political officials, medical entrepreneurs and academia who are currently lobbying for the lifting of the restrictions surrounding the use of cannabis.

"The debate is happening here in Jamaica and the Rastafarian community is the leading community in regard to the rights of ganja here. So we want to make sure that our community and our culture is protected as it is developed into a full-blown industry here in Jamaica," Stowe said.

She said the Rastarians also wanted to ensure that the plant is not misused by those looking to gain from it financially.

"We don't want no products to be developed like cigarettes that eventually came out of tobacco and made the thing cancerous. So we are also vigilant of all of this dissecting of the herb to make sure when you isolate the compounds, that you are not creating something that God didn't ordain for the herb," Stowe said.

She said the group has been in consultation with those who have been leading the talks on the legalisation of ganja, but they have not been in complete agreement with some of their principles.

"We have been negotiating throughout all that time and have been present at all their launches and presenting our position papers to the Government and to the Ministry of Justice. We met with Minister Mark Golding and we gave him all of our points and we eventually submitted our 'principles' with regard to the legalisation and the use of the sacramental spaces, etc. We are expecting that within the policy development that that will come forward," she added.

After their long walk, the Rastafarians were in a jubilant mood when they reached the Trench Town Culture Park and the unmistakably scent of ganja permeated the atmosphere as they partook in ritualistic dances, nyahbinghi chanting and drumming. Then came presentations from several high-profile individuals, including veteran reggae artiste Neville 'Bunny Wailer' Livingston who said he was pleased with the increased attention ganja has been getting.

"I have been a lover of high-grade from I was as small as four years of age. My dadda used to be a high-grade dealer, so I know high-grade from before a lot of you people," he said, adding that he was delighted that ganja is now the topic on 'Babylon's table'.

"I am proud and I am satisfied that although I don't sell marijuana I am now going to be able to plant marijuana. Futuristically, I have 142 acres of land and we want more land because the amount of ganja that we are going to plant, Jamaica is not even big enough to hold it," he said.

Meanwhile, Louis Moyston lamented the oppression of Rastafarians over the years for the use of ganja due to what he termed "Government bureaucracy, white supremacy and the church". He also denounced claims that legalisation of ganja would inspire violence.

"A no ganja inspire violence; it is inequality and injustice [that] inspire violence and criminality and ganja must no longer be the scapegoat," he told the rally.

"[For] many people, it (ganja) is what keep them through their depression and what keep them to adjust to the reality of 'Babylon'," said Moyston.

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