NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Rastafarian Royal Ambassador Priest Rithmond McKinney yesterday called the Bahamas Christian Council’s (BCC) unfavorable outlook toward the use of cannabis as a religious sacrament “unfair, and hypocritical”.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, McKinney said the church uses wine, an alcoholic beverage, as a religious sacrament, but continues to espouse a view, which amounts to the oppression of Rastafarians.
“As you know, the Christian Council is not the government and we have a case in court already and the prime minister already tabled in the House concerning the Rasta man’s rights to his sacrament and I think the government want to protect that right for its citizens
“We continue to fight for respect in this country as an entity
“Everyone knows the Rastafarian man uses the cannabis as a sacrament and that is not something that rose up the other day.
“Everyone knows the Rastafarian man was being oppressed and being victimized over the years; and stereotyped over the years for the use of cannabis, and the ones in our community from the grassroots level.
“We have been targeted all over this country for the use of cannabis.
“We will continue to listen and we also want to see exactly what the government will do because we don’t have any faith in the Christian Council and the Christian Council can’t make decisions for the government. Of course, what they say has a lot of weight in this country at times.
“We feel very strongly that the prime minister will do the right thing, and trust me, this is constitutional right. This isn’t something that they have to give us. It is something they should respect because it is a constitutional right to be able to observe our religious rights and have our sacrament.”
“We see it as totally unfair because we know that the sacrament used is wine, which at one time used to be illegal and now it is legal. And they give also it to children underage.
“It is still illegal in this country to give children wine, so they are breaching the law in plain sight, but for religious purpose they turn a blind eye…We don’t give underage [people] marijuana to use except if it is for medical use as a drink or a tea; for asthma or for certain ailments, but not to smoke.
“We use the whole plant. We don’t just use the plant to smoke and get high and psychosis; no, it’s not that; it’s the whole plant. It is a supplement that is good for the body, whether you smoke it; whether you use it internal or external. The world has done the research and seen the benefits. The benefits far outweigh the negative. The Christian Council is way behind.
McKinney pointed out that the Church of England will invest millions of dollars into the cannabis industry, relaxing a self-imposed ban and consider investment into medical cannabis.
When asked if he felt the church was being hypocritical, McKinney said: “That is what I am saying; totally.”
McKinney said despite the view of the church, he expects the government to “do the right thing”.
He insisted Rastafarians have not been asking for favour, but demanding a right as part of the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
In its position paper, the BCC supported cannabis use for medical purposes, but said it could not condone recreational or sacramental use due to the psychoactive impact of the plant.
The council also expressed support for the maintenance of a non-criminal civil citation as a deterrent to expanded use, noting it did not support incarceration and criminal records for “small simple possession”.
It suggested Rastafarians would be spared from criminal charges if arrested for small amounts of the substance.
However, McKinney, a member of the Ethiopia African Black International Congress, said Rastafarians use the whole plant and as much of its benefits as possible, and not as a means to “get high”.
In Jamaica, possession of cannabis for religious purposes is unrestricted, though it remains a criminal offence to have more than two ounces of the substance.
The commission suggested some consideration be given to Rastafarians relating to the plant.
In its report, the commission said: “The Bahamas government may wish to consider granting Rastafarians the right to use cannabis for religious use, in privacy.”
It recommended Rastafarian children under 18 not be allowed to use the substance.
McKinney underscored that children are not permitted to smoke the plant, though the church gives sacramental wine to children.