When most people think of cannabis, they think of using it for medical purposes, or maybe to unwind after a long, stressful day. However, for members of the Rastafarian faith, cannabis is something much more important. It is part of a sacrament and holy ritual they undertake to get closer to God; an essential aspect of their faith.
Unfortunately for them, many governments of the West Indian nations where they reside had reflexively banned cannabis, meaning they could not take part in their religion without risking imprisonment. So, it came as a great relief to adherents of the Rastafarian faith recently, when the governments of Antigua and Barbuda granted special protected status to Rastafarians to possess and use cannabis in connection with their religion.
It’s always been a great irony that in spite of the stereotypical image of the West Indies as Rastafarians and everyone getting “Irie” on the beach, cannabis use has always been strictly prohibited and heavily criminalized in most West Indian nations. This has a lot to do with the legacy of slavery and colonialism, which Rastafarians were most strident in resisting. In fact, the Rastafarian faith has always been a hotbed of resistance, which sparked rebellions against sugar planters, slave owners and colonial governments.
That led the governments to crack down on anything related to Rastafarianism, and cannabis use was an easy target. In 1980, the British Virgin Islands went so far as to pass the “Rasta Law”, which allowed immigration authorities to arbitrarily refuse entry to any travelers who looked like Rastafarians or hippies. That monstrously prejudicial legislation stayed on the books for nearly 20 years. Meanwhile, the Rastafarians native to the West Indies were treated with scorn and derision by the general public, and especially the police.
The cannabis prohibition basically allowed police to break up any Rastafarian religious ceremony. Imagine a government making wine illegal and then jailing people for taking wine with communion at Sunday Mass. Thankfully, Antigua and Barbuda have corrected that wrong with this new law. It is now legal for Rastafarians to possess, grow, and smoke cannabis for religious purposes. It is also legal for non Rastafarians to possess up to 15 grams of cannabis.
Now, it will still be illegal to bring cannabis into the islands, or to try to take it off. But for all intents and purposes, cannabis has been decriminalized in Antigua and Barbuda. It remains to be seen whether this will result in a tourism boom, but one thing is for sure. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh are somewhere smiling right now.
G13 Club is a private social club for medical and recreational cannabis users based in Barcelona. It is also a space for musical and artistic development that promotes a multitude of activities focused on the expression and exhibition of urban, hip hop, reggae and skate culture.