RASTA Speaks at the UN on Ganja

iyahV1As the United Nations meets on April 20-21 in a Special Session to discuss potential reform of international drug laws, a most unusual member of the Jamaican delegation is Ras Iyah-V, a RASTA leader, Elder, and one of the most outspoken advocates of legalization who has helped push the Jamaican Government to this historic position. Ras Iyah-V’s role as founder of the Westmoreland Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association (WHGFA) has made him the ‘face’ of the RASTA nation’s demands for recognition and compensation for more than eight decades of persecution for RASTA use of the ‘holy herb’.

Jamaica is currently at the forefront of global cannabis reforms, developing policies that aim to protect health, reduce harms and respect human rights. After over 100 years of cannabis prohibition in Jamaica, the Rastafari community, which has long campaigned for its religious freedoms, and the many Jamaicans who use ganja for its medicinal purposes, are finally having their voices heard. In April 2015 the Jamaican government legaliezd the use of cannabis for medical and sacramental use, recognizing for the first time the religious rights of the Rastafari people. The legislation set the way for Jamaica to become a global hub for research, to provide jobs, improve the economy and especially for cultural understanding, with the government declaring its determination to protect the interests of the Rastafari and small farmers.

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Ras Iyah-V with Justice Minister Mark Golding & Amanda Feilding, Beckley foundation

Born and grown in Westmoreland like Jamaica’s most famous ganja strain, 67-year-old Verald Vassall, better known as Ras Iyah-V, has been a RASTA all his life and – like all RASTA – has been fighting for the right to grow and use the herb all his life. Speaking at a conference held November 2015 by the Beckley foundation in Negril, Ras Iyah-V said:

Growing up as a Rastafarian, I decided I was not going to sit down and watch Rastafari and grass roots people being continually persecuted for a plant. I remember in 1987 I had an argument with the former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga and I asked him ‘Who is man to make law against something that was created by the same power that created him man?’ Because if we are going to look at a plant and say its illegal, then technically or indirectly we are saying that money is illegal, and if we are going to say that we and other people are all illegal, then I think it is the end of the world.

RASTA SYSTEMATICALLY PERSECUTED

sela4Since the inception of the movement, RASTA has been systematically persecuted, brutalized, imprisoned and even killed just for using a plant. So I began organizing marches, writing to the Government, doing all that I thought was possible for the Government to acknowledge the rights of Rastafari, that if you don’t want to legalize, at least you should decriminalize. I have done a lot of research on marijuana both from a scientific and from a legal point of view. Legally I am not a lawyer, but I am knowledgeable enough to know that the United Nations Charter has given constitutional rights to individuals, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, as long as in so doing you are not infringing upon the rights of other people.”

Ras IyahV does not mince words. Having closely followed and agitated for the reform of Jamaica’s ‘ganja laws’ he is satisfied with what has been done and is prepared to support the Government’s steps to pressure the international laws against use, production and sale of ganja. He is therefore delighted to have an opportunity as a member of Jamaica’s marginalized RASTA people to join the Jamaican Government and present a case before the international organization on April 21.

I don’t have any international obligation to the International Narcotic Board,” he says, “but the Government do and as such we and other people have an obligation to make sure that what the Government is doing is in our interests. It is also my responsibility to make sure that we protect the Government, not that I am saying that I am supporting all the laws and everything, but when it comes to the cannabis industry I am prepared and reasoned to give support to the Government because at the end of the day whether we want it or we don’t want it, those are the rules and regulations that we have to abide by simply because Jamaica has been so mismanaged that we no longer control our destiny. IMF runs Jamaica.”

Well known and respected by the RASTA community for his years of work defending RASTA rights, and especially as an activist seeking compensation for the notorious Coral Gardens Incident when RASTAs were subjected to weeks of brutality some call attempted genocide that started on Good Friday, 1954, Ras Iyah-V has earned the right to be a spokesperson for the RASTA nation.

10167957_251509848370305_623056230931337043_nWESTMORELAND HEMP & GANJA FARMERS ASSOCIATION

As the Government began national talks and conferences to seek a pathway for reform of the Dangerous Drugs Law, Ras Iyah-V formed the WHGFA in 2014 as the first and most active group of Jamaican Ganja farmers. Based in the world-famous ganja-growing Parish, WHGFA started early to organize and register their farmers. They held several positive meetings with the Minister at which they explained the position of their members and discussed necessary reforms.

Rising up as the first grassroots organization to gain local and international respect from the people, government, potential business partners, and other stakeholders for advancing the interest of grassroots people, traditional farmers, WHGFA ‘s establishment ignited the formation of other parish associations and alliances. and Rastafari, such as the Hanover Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association, St. Ann Ganja Farmers Association, St. Mary Ganja Farmers Association, St Thomas Ganja Farmers Association, Portland Ganja Farmers Association, & St. Catherine Ganja Farmers Association for joining the movement.

Noting the formation of a “Ganja Future Growers Association” whose members had to sign a statement that they were NOT ganja farmers, Ras Iyah-V was outraged. “We cannot step back and allow those who have persecuted the growers and users of ganja to benefit, while those who have kept the ganja industry alive for decades of suffering are marginalized and excluded. If you do that, we will take to the streets! If we are to develop this industry it must benefit Rastafari and it must benefit grass root people because these are the people who have borne the brunt of the persecution. It is we who when everybody was going left, right and centre, I&I were the ones who have kept true to the cause of legalization.”

villageWhen the reformed Dangerous Drugs Act was finally passed by Parliament, WHGFA formed a company Rastafari In Inity and allied with the cannabis-activist US magazine High Times to present ROOTZFEST – a 3-day cultural event held in Negril – the famous Westmoreland tourist resort – at which the judging of Jamaica’s first Cannabis Cup took place. The WHGFA was bold enough to Petition the Government for non-enforcement of the Ganja Laws in Westmoreland so as to enable growers to freely produce the best ganja possible for the occasion, saying “…the issuance of a prospective declaration of non-enforcement of ganja laws in Westmoreland Parish would allow the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association to exemplify for all the parishes of Jamaica the responsible integration of cannabis culture into Jamaican society”.

WHGFA pointed out that Westmoreland has kept alive the cultivation of ganja despite harsh enforcement of unjust laws against it and claimed the honour of leading Jamaica into an open and legal ganja economy.Though the Government did not accept the proposal, nevertheless the Sacramental priveleges accorded to RASTA in the reformed law enabled the free use and sale of Ganja at the event – an unprecedented act in Jamaican legal and cultural history.

Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association (WHGFA) Leader Ras Iyah V congratulated Justice Minister Mark Golding in very positive terms for the reform of the Ganja laws, saying: “The WHGFA thanks the Justice Minister for his courage and staying true to his words. This is another step in the right direction as we keep the fire burning.”

ganjaPIONEER JAMAICAN SCIENTISTS

Ras Iyah-V is very optimistic about Jamaica’s steps to turn Ganja into Green Gold and he praises pioneer Jamaican scientists, West and Lockhart.

Dr Lockhart and Dr Manley West in the late 70s, early 80s found out about herb and decided to do their research simply because they saw grass roots people using it. I remember Dr Manley West saying that when he went to Old Harbour to buy fish he couldn’t see the canoe coming in, but the other people could and when he realized that there were certain things that these people could see, but he couldn’t see and asked them why, a man took up a little bottle with some herb and some white rum and said this is what we use Doc. That motivated and stimulated Dr Lockhart and Dr Manley West to do their research and they came up with Canasol for glaucoma and Asmasol for asthma.

This shows us that we have the potential here to develop pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and other products, but how marketable are these products in the international market? It’s not that easy because there is the International Narcotic Convention and there is the International Narcotics Control Board. Now how do we go about it? Because that’s a big problem. That’s a big question. How do we develop and industry in a way that we can market our products internationally? I know that the US Government is using State Law as a guise to develop their cannabis industry and at the same time to fight against third world countries’ development. I don’t think the States could have been doing what they want if the Federal Government was not in league with it in some kind of legal way.

I think the Government of Jamaica has a responsibility to align themselves with other countries here in the Caribbean, in Latin America who are against this big stick that America has over our heads, that you can do what I say but not what I do. I think we have a duty and responsibility to align ourselves with these countries, whether from a regional block or from the point of view that we are thinking similar as countries, to make sure that we strengthen in such a way that we do have a say on the international political scene. Otherwise we will always have to succumb to these big sticks that America has over our head.”

RootzFest2MAJOR SUPPORTERS

FOR most of his 67 years, Ras Iyah-V has preached ganja’s medicinal and religious virtues and until last year, those who listened were largely from his Rastafarian faith. Thanks to his unceasing work, Ras Iyah-V and his WHGFA have the support of not only the Jamaican Government, but also two international advocates for ganja legalization.

One major supporter is US magazine HIGH TIMES that has been an advocate for world-wide legalization since it was founded in 1974 by American firebrand ganja advocate, Tom Forcade. Matt Stang, director of advertising and sponsorships at High Times, spoke about the monthly publication’s decision to introduce their landmark Cannabis Cup competition to Jamaica as part of the RASTAFARI ROOTZFEST event that WHGFA and the company they formed – Rastafari In Inity – held last November in Negril, the Jamaican resort famous for its laid-back approach to the Ganja culture of the Parish.

“We were approached last year to help amplify the voices of grassroots people and Rastafari who have borne the brunt of the persecution to keep an industry alive so they would benefit,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we were approached by many other individuals and groups but what stood out to us most, was the vision that WHGFA shared with us. They did not ask for money, they asked for a partnership.”

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Prof. Charles Nesson & Ras Iyah-V

HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR NESSON

Another strong supporter is Charles Nesson, tenured Harvard Law Professor who admitted in 2002 to smoking joints – often before teaching classes at Harvard University. The story made national news.

Nesson sees social justice as the surest manifestation of the utopic human condition.

The idea that we have this behemoth of criminal prosecution directed toward consumers of a plant, an ordinary plant, an herb, is so preposterous that you confront academically the discontinuity between what makes sense and what we are made to accept as our surrounding reality,” he says.

Nesson’s influence has extended beyond the stuffy corridors of Ivy League academia. He practices what he teaches. In 1966, as a special assistant in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, Nesson brought about the first convictions ever leveled at Ku Klux Klan members before an all-white jury in Alabama for violence against black citizens. The case helped make race and gender-based jury selection in the state unconstitutional. Forty years later, he represented the founder of NORML and publisher of High Times as they challenged Massachusetts possession laws after being charged for sparking up at the Boston Freedom Rally. Both were found guilty and sentenced to a day in prison.

Nesson’s outspoken links with cannabis led him to offer his services as pro-bono counsel to Ras IyahV’s WHGFA, working to advance restorative justice in a country that has transitioned from slavery to independence and, as he says, “been taken to the cleaners by colonial rule.”

Deeply involved in the cannabis conversation on the island, he’s been on the front lines of recent drug reforms since April 2014. Last year, when the Jamaican government decriminalized ganja, Nesson stood beside Ras IyahV to celebrate the victory. Nesson believes, the current scene in the Caribbean serves as a case study in the cautious optimism that characterizes current cannabis reforms the world over.

Where medical, recreational and sacramental provisions have been added to the new cannabis laws in Jamaica, so too, says he, must commercial considerations be made. Responsible economics, Nesson says, can help serve as a means of turning the page on decades of cannabis oppression and prohibition.

I believe what is potentially starting in Jamaica has got to start small. If it’s run on rocket fuel at the beginning or in some way taken over by the intelligence of international capitalism, it’s just going to wipe out,” he says. “The Rastafari want profit in the sense of needing to make money in order to have the funds to do what they’re doing, but they want profit not to compromise principle. Principle is first, profit comes second.”

RastafariRASTA PEACE & JUSTICE

Ras Iyah-V is grateful for Nesson’s help and guidance in understanding the legal hoops through which Ganja reform must jump. It frees him to continue heralding the peaceful RASTA approach to legalisation. Speaking last week to Nesson’s Harvard Law class, Iyah-V repeated what he says is the Message of RASTA:

RASTA say ‘Peace and Love’. If we are to have Peace there must be Justice. If injustice continues, will there be Peace? No! So we must continue to fight peacefully for Justice in all ways, and especially for the justice of Human Rights – the human right to use this plant that was created by JAH for mankind, for the healing of the nations. Our Emperor Haile Selasse I was someone representing the conscience of mankind, the returned Messiah, the Upholder of equality and justice. His Majesty showed us that we as RASTA have a right to demand the right of everybody to decide their own destiny.”

This is the message Ras Iyah-V will bring to the United Nations on April 21.

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah

JAMAICA’S REGULATED CANNABIS INDUSTRY – FIRST STEPS

ganja1The greatest achievement of the present Jamaican Government has been the liberation of the Ganja laws and the opening up of opportunities for Jamaica to capitalize on the many opportunities available to benefit from the Green Gold for which Jamaica is famous. RASTA had been saying for decades that Ganja was for ‘the healing of the nation’. Now, at last the doors have been opened by an enlightened administration, and RASTA gives thanks to all.

The manner in which the revision of the Dangerous Drugs law was piloted by Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice through the minefields of Jamaica’s social, economic and religious groups – including RASTA – is to be commended. Jamaica has taken a pioneering step that treads carefully through the restrictions of the international treaties while providing previously unheard of freedoms for Jamaican ganja users and producers. The provision for sacramental use as a Constitutional human right of RASTA is unprecedented and opens the way for other users of the herb – nationally and internationally, also make claims for their very human right to use ganja as medication or recreation.

villageA very important conference was held during the recent Rastafari RootzFest/HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup in Negril, organized by the Ministries of Justice and Industry, Investment & Commerce. It was hosted by the Beckley Foundation – an international organization founded by the Countess of Weymss, Amanda Feilding in 1998 to provide a rigorous review of global drug policies and develop a scientific evidence base on which to build alternative policies. For the last 17 years the Beckley Foundation has brought together leading international experts to discuss the complex and taboo issues surrounding cannabis policy and to explore new regulatory models to protect health and reduce the disastrous collateral harms caused by prohibition.

beckley logoHaving built an excellent reputation for information it has shared via conferences, expert studies and publication of scientific papers, the Beckley Foundation was a natural choice to help Jamaica establish its cannabis industry, especially given the fact that founder Amanda Feilding maintains a home in Portland, Jamaica. The two-day conference onJamaica’s Regulated Cannabis Industry: First Steps’ heard leaders and high-level officials of the Jamaican Government, the Attorney General’s Office and the Drug Abuse Council, as well as medical marijuana scientists who all made presentations on the important steps necessary for development of the blossoming industry, including the legal and financial implications and guidelines.

The detailed information shared by them showed the intense care with which all aspects of developing the industry are being considered. I can only share excerpts of the main presentations, but a full publication of all speeches with photographs and slides will be published by the Beckley Foundation shortly.

Beckley Conference Day 1Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding explained the legal pathway and guidelines that Jamaica undertook to reach the final revision of the law while keeping it within international boundaries. Minister of Industry, Commerce & Investment Anthony Hylton gave a positive outlook on Jamaica’s opportunities. Dr. Kathy-Ann Brown, Deputy Director in the Attorney General’s Office, represented by explained the legal and financial restrictions within which the industry must operate to comply with international laws.

The Director of the Scientific Research Council, Dr. Winston Davidson, explained the caution with which Jamaica will test, approve and track the production of Jamaica’s medical marijuana plants. Professor Wayne McLaughlin of the University of the West Indies, explained the clinical and medical research the University has been engaged in. Dr. Andre Gordon, Chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, described the process of registration and licensing that would be undertaken by his inter-governmental committee.Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeil spoke of the benefits possible to the industry, while Diane Edwards, President of JAMPRO, described the cultural and wellness tourism opportunities presented by the ganja industry. Stephen Wedderburn, Chief Technical Director of the Ministry of Industry, gave support to the presentation by Minister Anthony Hylton.

iyahV1Representing the RASTA community, Westmoreland Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association Chairman Ras Iyah-V praised the Sacramental Rights given under the revised Dangerous Drugs law that had made the RootzFest a unique and historic event.

“We as grass roots people, we didn’t have any legal avenue. We had to smuggle, because we know the use of the herb and we knew that people wanted the plant, whether to use it medicinally or recreationally. So for the time being here in Jamaica – again I give thanks for the Amendment, because it enables I&I Rastafari to move more freer than we used to, and at the same time to look at the potential of the industry in terms of its support for grass-roots people.

“I have said on many occasions that I will neither stand, sit nor lie down and watch this industry be taken over by rich people or foreign investors. If we are to develop this industry, it MUST benefit Rastafari and it MUST benefit grass-roots people, because these are the people who have borne the brunt of the persecution. It’s we who when everyone was going left, right and center, I and I were the ones who kept going.

Rastafari.jpg“The big question – how do we develop an industry here in a way that we can market our products internationally. From my analysis of the situation, I know that the US Government is using State laws as a guise to develop their cannabis industry and at the same time to fight against Third World countries’ development. I don’t think the States could have been doing what they want if the Federal Government was not in league with it.

“I say, the Government of Jamaica has a responsibility to align themselves with other countries here in the Caribbean and Latin America – there are countries that are against this big stick that America has over everyone’s heads, that you can do what I say but not what I do. I think we have a duty and responsibility to align ourselves with these countries, because unity is strength, and as such – whether as a regional bloc or from the point of view that we are thinking similarly as countries – to make sure that we become strengthened in such a way that we have a say on the international political scene. Otherwise we will always have to succumb to this big stick that America has over our heads.”

iyahV3Endorsing Ras Iyah-V, Senator Golding Minister of Justice, explained fully the decision of the Jamaican Government to grant sacramental rights to the Rastafari community. Addressing the topic specifically, he said:

“The Rastafarian people have suffered tremendously over many, many years in this country,” he said, “by actions taken against them and many of those actions related to ganja, so that was a burning issue that required reform. We felt that it was clearly unconstitutional for the law to prohibit the use of a sacrament by the Rastafarian people because the Charter of Rights in our Constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.

“So that was one element of the reform. The Rastafarian community – for the first time their religion was acknowledged in a public statute in Jamaica and their right to possess ganja is now acknowledged in the law. There are provisions for the designation of religious spaces as areas where the prohibition or the restrictions on ganja use do not apply, there is provision for designation of lands for cultivation for sacramental purposes, and exempt events which are events primarily for the purpose of observing or celebrating the Rastafarian faith.

golding3“We are trying to approach this in a creative and responsible way. The law has tried to be holistic. I think our work in this area has been acknowledged around the world as being of significance and I just hope that we can get the balance that’s inherent in this exercise right. I am sure that errors will be made but on the whole I think it presents a tremendous opportunity for Jamaica and the world to arrive at a new and more humane way of regarding this plant, ganja.”

Amanda Feilding2In her presentation, Conference host Amanda Feilding congratulated Jamaica for the pioneering step it has taken towards ganja legalization.

“It is wonderful,” she said “that Jamaica has now not only decriminalised cannabis, eliminating previous convictions for possession, but has also fully acknowledged the religious rights of the Rastafarians, thus becoming the first state to properly recognise the religious use of cannabis.

“On the global scene I think we have finally reached a ‘tipping point’. The ‘intellectual’ battle against the ‘War on Drugs’ has, for the most part, been won. Most intelligent people realize that it is impossible to eradicate a market through prohibition. Where there is a demand, there will always be a way to fill it. However, that is merely the ‘intellectual’ battle, the ‘battle on the ground’ has only just begun, and that is where Jamaica is now leading the way. There is no doubt that the ‘War on Drugs’ approach to the control of psychoactive substances has been a disaster, with catastrophic consequences at every level. I cannot think of another civil decision that has caused so much global suffering.

“Prohibition of psychoactive substances has created a vast criminal market, run by individuals, often acting with a ruthlessness which shakes the fabric of civilised society. It would have been much better if these substances had remained as an integral part of the social fabric, controlled by social pressure, with the purpose of minimising harms and optimising benefits.”

sela4Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said that developments in the American states such as Colorado “… presented a window of opportunity to do some of the things that we wanted to do for many years and had not really felt that we could, because of the adverse international impact or reaction that we would have suffered.” He spoke of the law’s changes making ganja smoking a ticketable offense without prosecution, the expunging of records for ganja convictions for small personal amounts, and the freedom to grow 5 plants for personal use.

He also repeated his commitment to the existing ganja farming industry. “The challenge for Jamaica in developing a regulated cannabis industry is how to reconcile two objectives which are not necessarily fully aligned — the first objective is the policy of the Government to ensure that the regulated lawful industry that would emerge is to be an inclusive industry that allows small farmers, rural communities, persons who have been growing ganja for years and have suffered the brunt of that — because it’s been an illegal activity and there have been significant efforts by the state to eliminate that – those persons if they want to participate can do so. That’s the fundamental as an objective.

rootzfestExplaining that Jamaica has been adventurous in framing its Ganja legislation, Senator Golding said that the three Conventions that make up the international drug treaty system, the UN Single Convention of 1961 and two other subsequent conventions, requires the Cannabis Licensing Authority in designing the regulatory system to do so in a way that is compliant with Jamaica’s international obligations.

“I do think that in the design of the framework for Jamaica,” he said, “we need to push the envelope somewhat, in order to ensure that the principal objective of inclusion is not sacrificed on the alter of rigid and strict interpretation of the treaties. The United States itself has propounded that the treaties allow flexibility and I think Jamaica accepts the approach of flexibility in interpreting those treaties and so I will be expecting that the regulations will be designed in a way that does enable small farmers who want to come on board to do so.”

For RASTA, the Beckley Conference was a fitting partner event, providing a scientific, intellectual and academic foundation to underscore the physical manifestation of the revised Jamaican drug laws that was taking place a short distance away on the beautiful Negril beach. The speeches provided a full explanation of all aspects comprising the structure and development of the Jamaican ganja industry, establishing a good framework for unity between the Jamaican farms, businesses and scientific laboratories necessary for success. RASTA must and will keep an eye on all developments.

marley

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah