Kenyan Rastafarians seek to legalize marijuana amid doubts of other religious leaders
NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) – Rastafarians have asked Kenya’s High Court to decriminalize cannabis use, claiming smoking marijuana is part of their religious practice.
“We Rastafarians, who have been stigmatized and misunderstood, have come here to say, in agreement with the United Nations, that the use of cannabis for cultural, spiritual and medicinal purposes should be allowed for people who (use it ) for many years, ”Ras Lorjoron, president of the Rastafarian Society of Kenya, told reporters Monday (May 17) in court, where Rastafarians demanded legal use of the plant in their homes and places of worship.
In December, a United Nations commission voted to remove cannabis from its list of deadly drugs, while calling it harmful.
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“Many parts of the world have come to discuss and authorize the use for spiritual, health and cultural purposes,” added Lorjoron.
Smoking marijuana, say followers of the Rastafarian movement, is their way to connect with their God, Jah. “The sacred grass,” they argue, strengthens their sense of community and helps them achieve a spiritual realm.
According to Lorjoron, Rastafarians in Kenya are frequently the target of police arrests and persecution for the spiritual use of cannabis, especially for sacramental purposes. Many of them end up cultivating the plant secretly in forests, household compounds, or pots inside their homes.
“We urge you to help break down the stigma surrounding cannabis. We want the world to no longer see it as a narcotic, but as a medicinal herb that can aid creation, ”said Lorjoron.
In the petition, the group called for changes to sections of the Kenyan constitution that classify cannabis as a narcotic and psychotropic substance. According to the group, the sections discriminate against the Rastafarian community on the basis of religion.
The origins of Rastafarianism can be traced to the island nation of Jamaica in the Caribbean, but it gained momentum in 1930 when Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa came to power, and some members of the movement came to believe that Selassie was an embodiment of God. His coronation sparked an exodus to Ethiopia from the Caribbean. There are currently followers of the faith in most countries of Africa.
The numbers are low in Kenya, where 83% are Christian and 10% are Muslim, according to a 2013 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics study.
Representatives of the movement filed their petition in the same court where, in 2019, a judge declared their movement of religion.
Some leaders of more established faiths have expressed doubts. “They are among those who are emerging to claim their space,” Roman Catholic Bishop Wilybard Lagho, who heads the Diocese of Malindi, told Religion News Service. “We have a liberal constitution that allows for freedom of religion, but I’m not sure they qualify to be a religion.
“I think it’s more of a philosophical question than a legal one, whether a group can stand up and use a drug like sacred herb,” Lagho added.
Although there have been lone voices in the past calling for the decriminalization of cannabis smoking in Kenya, the latest move has confused Christian and Muslim leaders.
“It would be a big mistake to legalize it, given that millions of young Kenyans are unemployed. Stressed young people would smoke for comfort and it would be a mess, ”said Rev. Joachim Omollo Ouko, an apostle of Jesus priest in the Archdiocese of Kisumu in western Kenya.
Abdallah Kheri, a religious scholar who chairs the Islamic Research and Education Trust, said anything that harms the body is prohibited in Islam.
“Bhang affects the well-being of people, so it’s forbidden,” Kheri said, using another word for cannabis. “We are still grappling with drug abuse in the country, and if it is legalized we will continue to lose generations.”