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

RASTAFARI LIVES

 Through RGG SpecsRASTAFARI LIVES     Read an excellent column this week in the OBSERVER by Everton Pryce, in which he urges his fellow middle-class Jamaicans to face up to the fact that Rastafari is here to stay, an integral and immovable part of the Jamaican landscape, social structure and population. Noting the movement’s growth and progression from scorned to RASpected, he states that “…. we have witnessed over these many decades where the Rastafarian movement has remained the clearest expression of native wisdom in the creation of our own destiny and the demonstration of the innate structures of sophisticated thought that reside among the real people in the land. Indeed, money matters in these hostile economic times, but Jah — like God, Mohammed, etc – lives!”

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Everton Pryce

Citing Rastafari’s growth from mountain hermit to university scholars, he continues: “In any event, the movement’s ideological fractiousness notwithstanding, it is doubtful whether we can refer to it any longer as a predominantly “Jamaican poor people protest social movement”. Many of today’s Rastas command wealth and star status; and there are more ‘baldhead’ committed Rastas now than ever before.” So true!

With this mounting body of evidence of the unique affection carried by many thousands of Jamaicans at home and abroad — and an even greater number of global citizens — for the Rastafarian movement, what weight is a Jamaican Government in the 21st Century willing to place on such loyalties to Jah, Ethiopia and to Haile Selassie in particular? …Are thorough-going orthodox Christian Cabinet ministers willing to facilitate the accommodation of the brethren and sistren, once and for all, over those issues of lingering concerns to the movement?” (Such as Coral Gardens, Pinnacle, Back-O-Wall, and repealing the ganja ‘records’?)

mottoPryce concludes: “ … The issue really boils down to one of tolerance, and we should not wait until the wrath of the Rastafarians surfaces again to seriously put into practice the message of our national motto. Jah lives! And there is nothing we can do to stop this.”  READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jah-Rastafari-lives—but-the-tension-remains_16205127

WHGFA

Ras Miguel Lorne, Ras Iyah V

WESTMORELAND HEMP & GANJA FARMERS ASSOCIATION FORMED     News this week of formation of a group of Rastafari ganja farmers from Westmoreland, the part of Jamaica long famous for growing the sweetest ganja. Led by Ras Iyah V – one of the stalwarts, leaders and Elders of the movement — and Rasta lawyer Miguel Lorne (who pops up everywhere these days), they made some strong statements at the Negril launch. According to the GLEANER report:

Members of the newly formed Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers’ Association (WHGFA) say the official licence to grow and sell marijuana, upon legalisation, should be restricted to members of the Rastafari faith and lower socio-economic groups, who have been victimised for decades for cultivating the herb.

WHGFA2“We will not stand by and watch anybody outside of Rastafari and grass-roots people take over this product. And we make no apology,” association President Ras Iyah V declared during his address at the launch of the organisation at the MXIII Lawn in Negril on Sunday night.  “We are saying this loud and clear to the Government, we are saying it to society, and we are saying it to the international community. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and turn Jamaica upside down – and we make no apology,” he said. “Because we not going take baton lick and brutality and all of a sudden now when the legalisation aspect come, a some rich people come tek it ova – people who used to scoff and scorn at the very mention of the herb name ganja,” he added.

“The WHGFA’s objectives are to make sure that those who have paid the price – who have been going to jail, going to prison, getting the baton licks, who have been planting the herb and it get cut down by police and soldiers, and yet have been persistent with this product – that the rights of these individuals are protected.” READ THE FULL REPORT HERE: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140315/western/western1.html#.UyRR-nVCyio.facebook

21ROYAL ORDER OF RASTAFARI?        A Rasta in Italy wrote me suggesting that Rastafari could claim itself a Nation just as members of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta do. According to Wikipedia, this group was founded in Jerusalem 1050 as a hospital to provide care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, it became a military order under its own charter. Following the loss of Christian held territories of the Holy Land to Muslims, the Order operated from Rhodes (1310–1523), and later from Malta (1530–1798), over which it was sovereign.

black madonnaAlthough this state came to an end with the ejection of the Order from Malta by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Order as such survived. It retains its claims of sovereignty under international law and has been granted permanent observer status at the United Nations. The order is notable for issuing its own international passports for travel, postal stamps, along with its formal insignia, often portrayed as a white or gold Maltese cross. The order nominally invokes the Blessed Virgin Mary under the venerated Marian title of “Our Lady of Mount Philermos” as its patroness and spiritual intercessor. Today the order has about 13,000 members; 80,000 permanent volunteers; and 20,000 medical personnel including doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics in more than 120 countries to assist the elderly, handicapped, refugeed, children, homeless, those with terminal illness and also engaged to aid victims of natural disasters, epidemics and armed conflicts.

The ‘permanent observer status at the UN’ and ability to issue its own passport, stamps and insignia, lead me to invite discussion on the suggestion that Rastafari could qualify to identify similarly as a Nation, with similar benefits. It’s a thought, eh!

makedaWOMAN OF DISTINCTION       Those who know the US reggae music scene know of Makeda Dread Cheatam, also called Makeda Makossa-– the legendary Rastawoman who has for 30 years hosted the best annual reggae show in San Diego– the California city that LOVES reggae. So it will come as no surprise that she has been voted one of the 25 Most Influential Women in San Diego’s history. Here’s what they had to say about Sister Makeda.

“Makeda Dread Cheatom founded the World Beat Cultural Center in Balboa Park in 1985 where she has preserved the history of African and Indigenous cultures. She later created the Adams Avenue Theatre and serves as a DJ for 92.5 FM and 91X FM. Inducted into San Diego County’s Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012, she was recognized for being a “bridge builder.”

Here’s what she had to say about the distinction: Wow I received this honor from the people of San Diego. This award is for my mother, a maid for many years for this town San Diego and for my father who shined the service men’s shoes downtown and for all the San Diegans that had to leave the city because it was too conservative and unjust. But most of all this award is dedicated to you my brothers and sisters who stood by me and believed in me. When I pass to the realm of the ancestors I’ll feel blessed to leave you one of the most dynamic cultural centers in the US and a tribute to all the reggae legends that always live within us. RastafarI. Ashe.

ja celebration

Jamaica celebration

TPDCo NEGLECTING ITS DUTY!        The Daily GLEANER Editorial said it, so I cannot be criticized for bringing this up. The Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) is not doing its work of developing Jamaica’s tourism product. “It is inconceivable,” says the GLEANER, “that of the approximately J$616 million budgeted for projects for the 2013-2014 financial year, only JM$94 million has been spent, while more than J$350 million has been spent on TPDCo salaries. Salaries for what? According to TVJ’s Prime Time News report aired on March 12, 2014, only $4.6m of $39m; $3.7m of $101m, and $13m of $114 million was spent on TPDCo projects in Kingston, Montego Bay, and Negril, respectively. Those in charge have been receiving salaries under false pretences and seem only to have a bunch of excuses to offer to the Public.”

T-shirtI can’t agree more. Looking at the massive sums allocated for TPDCo to spend on making Jamica’s tourism more attractive and how little they have spent, I can only speak as one of the many event organizers dying for lack of support from government to develop interesting sustainable events to attract tourists. I am shocked to see that TPDCo had JA$500 million to spend in 2013 that was just sittng unclaimed in its bank account, while projects like the Jamaica International Reggae Film Festival searched unsuccessfully for financial support to provide the international promotion to position the event as another major summer event and a development of the tourism ‘product’.

OCCUPY 2pinnacle 3THURSDAY LUNCH CLUB AT PINNACLE                 As the Pinnacle development continues to attract interest and supporters, a Thursday Lunch Club has been happening for the past 3 weeks that follows a tradition started by Mr. Howell for speakers and cultural persons to interact with the community. Visitors, local and foreign, authors, film makers and other media expand the experience. Here are some pics.

Meanwhile, the individual posting on FaceBook under the title of ‘the Rastafari Millenium Council’ should seek unity with the OCCUPY PINNACLE movement which is doing good for Rastafari, despite all of I&I previous mistakes, blunders and errors of action, inaction and ego that have brought so much disunity and lack of achievement to the movement’s progress.

Donisha Prendergast is a brave youth with the warrior spirit of Nanny. May JAH continue to grant her the strength and wisdom to continue her blessed work.

home1All is done by the inspiration, example, guidance and BLESSING of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I.  PRAISE H.I.M.