Rasta: Pending Decriminalisation Act only a stepping stone

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High Priest Selah, of the Nyabinghi Theocracy Church, says the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act will only have a minor impact on his tribe since the new legal amount equates to “one chalice” during a religious ceremony.
For this reason, High Priest Conneal “Selah” Christian said that the promise made by Prime Minister Gaston Browne
to decriminalise small amounts by year-end at the first Marijuana Consultation on May 15 would only impact the “youth on the streets.”
“But when it comes to the Rastafarian community, marijuana is used as our sacrament and five grammes for the church…business nuh sound logical to me,” he said.
In fact, the legislation speaks to the decriminalisation of 10 grammes of cannabis.
The high priest added that laws enacted to limit this “breaches” their constitutional right to exercise their religious freedoms.
The government will miss the year-end timeline to decriminalise small amounts of marijuana as the bill will not be tabled in parliament until the new year.
 Despite the delay and the dissatisfaction with the quantum being decriminalised, the priest lauded the overall move as a “stepping stone.”
He explained that previous administrations were unable to debate these ideas in the Lower House, and his only hope is that the Act is not rushed but “done right” the first time around.
Both the Democratic National Alliance and the United Progressive Party have supported the move by the government to decriminalise a maximum of 10 grammes of cannabis.
In August 2017, the Cabinet recommended that residents be allowed to have five grammes of marijuana in their possession but the new Act has increased it to 10 grammes.
Attorney General Stead-roy “Cutie” Benjamin said the cost of pursuing convictions for such tiny amounts is very expensive and the intention is also to prevent young people from getting criminal records that impede their employment opportunities and travel visas.
The Rastafarian said that cannabis users in and outside of his community should not be allowed to use the substance in public and that is why he is calling for designated areas for the people of his faith to smoke freely.
If the government includes their church as a designated area, the High Priest said that that would be a major win for leaders such as Elder in the Big Creek Church, Foster “King Osagyefo” Mack and King Frank I Francis who have campaigned for decades for the faith.
“I just want more education, research and knowledge on it because it’s out there. Jamaica has gone forward, Jamaica has a model criterion that  we, even in Antigua, can look at,” he emphasised.
If passed, the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill would make it lawful for a person over 18 years to have in his possession a maximum of 10 grammes of cannabis.
The amendments however, place certain restrictions on the possession of the drug. For example, the use of cannabis is prohibited in public places such as schools, places of entertainment and such other places as the minister may designate.
A major factor which initiated the passage of this Bill, the explanatory notes on the Bill states, is to protect the livelihood and future of young persons under the age of 18 by requiring such persons to participate in drug treatment or drug counselling programmes when found in possession of cannabis.
The bill gives the minister the power to make regulations for violation tickets that will be issued for a second offence, after a warning for the first violation. 
A third and subsequent violation would draw fines amounting to no more than $1,500.
Another amendment provides for the expungement of convictions prior to the passage of the bill for offences involving 10 grammes of marijuana or less.
Social Transformation Minister Samantha Marshall headed the consultations responsible for compiling the submissions by users, doctors and religious groups.
Those recommendations and concerns were presented to Parliament.   

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