In one of those discussions that happen when good friends get together, the topic rolled around to RASTA business, or the lack of it. My recent article on the Coptics had got a lot of attention, first from those who remembered that brave group of ganja warriors, and then from people who had never heard of their noble adventures 40 years ago to liberate the herb and make it a major source of Jamaica’s income.
The conversation turned to the current activity by government to legalize ganja (or is it just decriminalize medicinal ganja?) and we realized that none of us were happy with the proposals being put forward in the ongoing meetings being held or the committees being set up. Why? Because it turns out that none of us agree that Government should be in charge of ganja business.
None of us like the fact that the committee organized by Government proposes that all ganja farmers will sell their ganja to government, who will then handle retail sales and exports. But why? If ganja is to be sold as legally as bananas, why must Government control all sales? Why is it not possible for ganja farmers to pay Government for a license to grow and then pay taxes, just as cigarette manufacturers do? Why should we hand over our ganja to government, especially to committees of people who never carried the social and legal burden of keeping the ganja flame alight, but who were part of the system of brutality, imprisonment, social and job ostracism that we ganja growers and users have suffered all these years?
WHY NOT? For instance, if I develop a special strain of ganja and I have a buyer in a country where ganja is legal such as Colorado, Ecuador or Holland, why would I not be able to sell direct to them after paying government for my license and the relevant taxes? For sure, I would be reluctant to let anyone take my ganja from me, price and sell my valuable product.
We are specially concerned that the legalization of ganja is being organized by people who used to persecute us for using, growing, selling ganja, who now present themselves to us as our saviours. We are uncomfortable at the fact that none of us were called to the table for the first-ever meeting on legalization.
So we all gave the matter some thought and decided to create a Petition to state our position to Government. We want to keep ganja in the hands of the people of Jamaica, not the politicians. Instead of parish committees being set up along the order of political party groups, we want to see Certified Accountants being appointed to head Cannabis Councils in each Parish. These accountants would handle ganja as a business, license producers as individuals and companies, and supervise the payment of taxes in the same way that all Jamaican companies are licensed and pay taxes. Ganja producers would then be as free to run their business as all other Jamaican farmers.
BROKEN PROMISES You see, we don’t trust Government to fulfill its promises to RASTA. Look how long ago the Prime Minister of this Government promised to set up a Committee to oversee and pay reparations to the survivors of the brutal and unjust Coral Gardens massacre. This was an attempt to wipe out RASTA from Jamaica, for which there has been no apology or retribution, despite many appeals, marches in the hot sun and annual commemorations. One of the most prominent Coral Gardens survivors died on Good ‘BAD’ Friday, a sad event that served to remind RASTA of the empty promise made by PM Portia Simpson-Miller when RASTA embraced her at a 2013 UWI conference before she set off to attend the 50th anniversary meeting of the African Union in Ethiopia – RASTA homeland!!!
Look at what has happened with Pinnacle where, after brave and outspoken efforts to persuade Government to correct the injustice done to Leonard Howell by restoring to RASTA the lands which were confiscated and the first RASTA village destroyed, there is only an empty silence. Ignoring the corruption so clearly evident in the fact that the Minister of Culture is common-law wife of the current owner of Pinnacle and her common-law brother-in-law is vice-chairman of the national heritage committee under which the matter falls, the PM simply moved the matter to a committee chaired by three leading members of the PNP.
With no further discussion, this committee moved the matter to the Ministry of Lands, giving us hope that the Ministry would trace the Pinnacle land titles dating from Howell to the present owner. Instead, all that the Minister of Lands (another very senior PNP executive) has done is to announce that Government has agreed to purchase six lots of land, as proposed by the previous JLP government. No word about research into the Pinnacle titles, and no further action to remove either the Minister of Culture or her common-law brother-in-law from their supervisory positions on this important RASTA matter. (The matter has not been helped by the ongoing battle by some misguided individuals claiming, with no authority, to be RASTA ‘leaders’.)
So we RASTA are not confident that legalization of our Green Gold – that we have shed our red blood for! – by Government will have any greater sympathy for, or responsibility to, RASTA . We have suffered enough, and long enough. Governments, on both sides of the fence, have shown they are not to be trusted where RASTA is concerned. We cannot leave this important and valuable resource in the hands of the same Government that has persecuted us for ganja all these years. They have not even showed good faith with a promise to wipe the records of those who have suffered imprisonment and hold ‘records’ for personal use of the sacred herb. That would be a sign that they overstand the heart of the matter, but they don’t. So we are posting our petition to the Prime Minister, and we ask you to sign it.
“One of the demands during the protests that followed – and that resulted in getting rid of the government, the central bank manager and the head of the financial authority – was that we would get to rewrite our constitution. “We” meaning the 99%, not the politicians who had failed us. Another demand was that we should have real democratic tools, such as being able to call directly for a national referendum and dissolve parliament.
“As an activist, web developer and poet, I helped create a political movement from the various grassroots movements in the wake of the crisis. We had no leaders, but rotating spokespeople; we did not define ourselves as left or right but around an agenda based on democratic reform, transparency and bailing out the people, not the banks.
“We vowed that no one should remain in parliament longer then eight years and our movement would dissolve if our goals had not been achieved within eight years. We had no money, no experts; we were just ordinary people who’d had enough and who needed to have power both within the system and outside it.
“Our constitution has been rewritten by the people for the people. A constitution is such an important measure of what sort of society people want to live in. It is the social agreement. The foundation for the constitution was created by 1,000 people randomly selected from the national registry. We elected 25 people to put that vision into words. The new constitution is now in the parliament. We are strong, the power is ours: we are many, they are few. We are living in times of crisis. Let’s embrace this time for it is the only time real changes are possible by the masses.”
Jamaica can learn a lot from Iceland.
JAMAICAN PEOPLES CANNABIS COUNCIL Petition Click on link to sign.