Feds Call Out Religious Discrimination Against Marijuana Consumers

By Tom Angell | August 16, 2017

The Trump administration is calling out religious discrimination against marijuana consumers — in other countries.

The U.S. State Department, in its 2016 Report on International Religious Freedom, released on Tuesday, shines a spotlight on how spiritual cannabis consumers across the globe feel discriminated against by the laws that make their sacrament illegal.

In Sierra Leone, the report notes, the country’s High Court acquitted police officers who were charged with manslaughter following the death of a Rastafarian who they arrested for smoking marijuana and then allegedly beat. In a separate incident, cops were accused of demolishing a Rastafarian temple after chasing down adolescents who were smoking cannabis nearby.

In Barbados, police and immigration officials reportedly require Rastafarians to remove head coverings and give extra scrutiny to women at checkpoints, allegedly a pretext for searching for marijuana.

“Rastafarians continued to disagree with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use and said they were subjected to scrutiny from police and immigration officers,” the report’s section on Dominica said.

In Jamaica, Rastafarians told the State Department that parts of their religious practice, such as wearing dreadlocks and consuming marijuana, presented barriers to employment and professional advancement. And while they said that the country’s recent allowance of cannabis for religious use led to police adopting “appropriate changes” in enforcement, in some cases cases cops “continued to profile, stop and search for possession of marijuana over the decriminalized limit.”

In Antigua and Barbuda, “The Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO) said the government’s prohibition of marijuana restricted the practice of their religious rights because marijuana was integral to their religious rituals.”

The report notes that the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Culture did not register any new religious groups in 2016, leaving the application of the Cannabis Church pending.

In Saint Lucia, Rastafarians said prohibition made them “reluctant to use marijuana and thus prevented them from carrying out religious practices.”

Also singled out for cannabis discrimination in the new report are Saint Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas and Saint Vincent and The Grenadines.

The document makes no mention of cannabis-based religious discrimination in the United States, even though federal prohibition considers marijuana for spiritual, medical or other uses to be a crime punishable by arrest, imprisonment and property forfeiture.

“We do not rate ourselves,” Ambassador Michael Koza of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor told the press. “There was an effort to do so – I’m old enough to remember; it was 30-some years ago. And when we all looked at it, people started laughing. It was like writing your own performance evaluation or something. You either were way too modest or you looked like you were bragging on yourself.”

U.S. court challenges asserting the religious freedom to use marijuana have repeatedly failed.

In one of the more recent examples of the clash between marijuana’s criminalization and its religious uses, leaders of Denver, Colorado’s International Church of Cannabis were cited by local officials following an undercover sting during an April 20 consumption ceremony.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a briefing on the report that he “would put our record on religious freedom up against anybody in the world.”

Previous annual installments of the religious freedom report have also spotlighted anti-marijuana discrimination in other nations.

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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