Rastafari Want More Freedom of Cannabis Usage for Worship

Via AP

December 10, 2021 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Mosiyah Tafari banged on drums and chanted psalms with other Rastafari in a ballroom where the smoke of frankincense mixed with the fragrant smell of marijuana — which his faith deems sacred.

The ceremony in Columbus, Ohio marked the 91st anniversary of the coronation of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, whom Rastafari worship as their savior. For hours, the group played traditional Nyabinghi music on their most important holy day.

“Cannabis is something that puts you in contact with the spiritual aspect of life in the physical body,” said Tafari, a member of the Columbus-based Rastafari Coalition, which organized the event.

“It’s important for Rastafari because we follow the traditions of the Scriptures and we see that cannabis is good.”

For Rastafari, the ritualistic smoking of marijuana brings them closer to the divine. But for decades, many have been incarcerated because of their use of cannabis. As public opinion and policy continues to shift in the U.S. and across the world toward legalization of the drug for both medical and recreational purposes, Rastafari are clamoring for broader relaxation to curtail persecution and ensure freedom of worship.

“In this system, they’re very focused on, ‘Oh, we can make a lot of money, we can sell these medicinal cards, we can sell this ganja,’ but what of the people who have been persecuted? What of the people who have been sent to jail, imprisoned, even killed,” said Ras Nyah, a music producer from the U.S. Virgin Islands and a Rastafari Coalition member.

“We must address these things before we get too ahead of ourselves,” said Nyah, who attended the ceremony wearing a tracksuit in the Rastafari colors of red, green and gold

The Rastafari faith is rooted in 1930s Jamaica, growing as a response by Black people to white colonial oppression. The beliefs are a melding of Old Testament teachings and a desire to return to Africa. Rastafari followers believe the use of marijuana is directed in biblical passages and that the “holy herb” induces a meditative state. The faithful smoke it as a sacrament in chalice pipes or cigarettes called “spliffs,” add it to vegetarian stews and place it in fires as a burnt offering.

“Ganja,” as marijuana is known in Jamaica, has a long history in that country, and its arrival predates the Rastafari faith. Indentured servants from India brought the cannabis plant to the island in the 19th century, and it gained popularity as a medicinal herb.

It began to gain wider acceptance in the 1970s when Rastafari and reggae culture was popularized through music icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, two of the faith’s most famous exponents. Tosh’s 1976 hit “Legalize It” remains a rallying cry for those pushing to make marijuana legal.