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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 16:42 GMT
Judge advises Rastas over drug challenge
Rastafarian smoking cannabis
Cannabis is regarded as a "sacred commodity" by Rastafarians
A judge has suggested that Rastafarians take High Court action in an attempt to be allowed to use and sell cannabis as part of their religious beliefs and culture.

Judge Charles Gibson said it could result in a declaration that UK drug laws and the freedoms protected in the Human Rights Act are incompatible.

His comments came during a ruling in which he rejected an application by a self-confessed Rastafarian cannabis dealer to change his earlier guilty pleas to charges of possessing the drug and intending to supply it.

The man, Rasta Brown, maintained he had done nothing wrong when he attempted to sell some cannabis to an undercover officer, as the use and the sale of marijuana was a recognised part of Rastafarian culture and religion.

They should put their confidence to the test by bringing proceedings in the High Court

Judge Charles Gibson
When he was arrested in June in Brixton, south London, Mr Brown, 39, was carrying seven bags containing 20.36 grammes of cannabis with a further 516 milligrams in his shorts.

A search of his Stockwell home uncovered a block of 128 grammes.

At his first court appearance, Mr Brown pleaded guilty to one count of possessing cannabis and two of possession with intent to supply.

But after the Human Rights Act came into force at the start of October, Mr Brown applied to change his pleas, saying that article nine of the law supported everyone's entitlement to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

'Aid to worship'

Defence counsel Rufus D'Cruz told Inner London Crown Court that although "weed" was not mentioned in the 16 tenets of Rastafarianism, it was considered to be an aid to worship, a medicine and a source of income.

Cannabis was regarded as a "sacred commodity" and "sacrament incense" with authority for its use derived from the Bible, he told the court.

"The matter has always been central to the Rastafarian community, culture and religion for decades, if not centuries," Mr D'Cruz told the court.

A marijuana farm in Kingston, Jamaica
A marijuana farm in Kingston, Jamaica
Mr Brown made it clear during his interviews with police that he regarded marijuana as a herb originally grown in the Garden of Eden for the use of mankind for religious, culinary and medicinal purposes.

The judge said in making his ruling he had referred to Christopher Williams' book Rasta: Emperor Haile Selassie and the Rastafarians.

"I am not persuaded that it goes very far towards demonstrating that for a Rastafarian to use cannabis, let alone for commercial purposes, is to 'manifest his religion or belief'," he told the court.

Summer fairs

"That the use of 'herb' is a practice adopted by the majority, though apparently not all Rastafarians, would appear to be undeniable; but it does not follow that something which is a practice or a characteristic is in addition a manifestation of religion or belief," he said.

The judge compared the practice of Rastafarians selling cannabis with that of Christian churches holding summer fairs and coffee mornings for fund raising purposes.

"If Parliament were to render these activities illegal, it could not be seriously contended that a manifestation of religion was being made," he said.

The judge said he saw "substantial difficulties" in using article nine of the Human Rights Act to protect commercial dealings - especially as Mr Brown was willing to "sell to all comers on the street".

But he did suggests Rastafarians took their case to the High Court.

"I cannot see why, if they consider they have a good case they should not put their confidence to the test by bringing proceedings in the High Court with a view to obtaining a declaration of incompatibility."

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13 Dec 00 | Health
Cannabis driving danger measured
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