December 1, 2015 By Mohamed Massaquoi
The Rastafarian Movement in Sierra Leone yesterday presented a position paper to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), urging the 80-man body chaired by retired Justice Edmond Cowan to decriminalize the use of marijuana in the country.
Popular broadcaster and a member of the movement, Theophilous Sahr Gbenda, who acted as their spokesman during the presentation, said part of their position paper includes the inclusion of their religious persuasion as one of the official religions in the Country and the decriminalisation of marijuana because of its economic benefit to the government and people of Sierra Leone.
He said their members had given due consideration to, and brainstormed on the two issues before they reached a conclusion that it was erroneous and deliberate on the part of the state to have listed marijuana among harmful drugs like cocaine and heroin .
Though a secular country, Sierra Leone only recognises Christianity and Islam as the official religions, with Muslims accounting for approximately sixty percent of the population.
However, an insignificant minority observes the Rastafarian Movement which draws inspiration from the former Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, and the late Jamaican singer Bob Marley.
Marijuana is among the banned substances in the country, although it is popular with many youths and the small Rastafarian community.
Gbenda, who wears a dreadlocks, told the CRC that the Sierra Leone Rastafarian Movement is a socio-religious movement that was established in 1989 with a broad objective of ensuring positive transformation of the mindset of ill-influenced youth and to spread the teachings of the Holy Bible as well as values and morals of ‘His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Hail Silassie’.
He said Rastafarians around the world share a personal relationship with marijuana and have been very concerned about its categorisation as a banned drug, and its misuse.
“We have a special sentimental attachment to marijuana in our spiritual worship; we consider marijuana as the Holy Sacrament, just in the same way as Christians consider the Holy Communion as the body of Christ in their belief and worship.
“The constitution of the land makes it very clear that no one shall be discriminated because of his or beliefs. Condemnations of marijuana are based mainly on ignorance and disrespect for Jah’s creation. For these reasons and others, we are calling on the reviewers of the present constitution of the land to look at marijuana from a broader perspective and ignorance creating the myths around it,” noted the broadcaster.
He added that: “Often and again marijuana is associated with crime and violence; this is not generally the case as evidence by the fact that those people who after smoking marijuana run into violence are most likely to have mixed it up with actual drugs like cocaine, brown-brown [heroin] and others.”
He claimed that marijuana could be used for medical purpose, adding “medical marijuana refers to the use of cannabis as a physician’s recommended herbal therapy as well as synthetic” and that they wanted the laws of Sierra Leone to guarantee the judicious use of marijuana.
CRC chairman Justice Edmond Cowan thanked members of the Movement for presenting their position paper to the committee, adding that their mandate was not tasked to rewrite the constitution but to review it, which involves collecting information from the people which could be included in the new constitution.
He recalled that when President Ernest Bai Koroma was launching the review process, he had called on members of the committee to ensure the process was people friendly, adding that the 1991 constitution made provision for religious associations and that he is not aware of any ban on the Rastafarian Movement in the country.
“I want to assure you that your document will be seriously looked into, but I want you as well to understand that after the first exercise, this document will be taken again to the people for referendum for the people to decide what should be in the new constitution,” he concluded.