The Rastafarian Society of Kenya (RSK) has filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Kenya to request national regulations to allow the use of marijuana to members of this religion for spiritual and ceremonial reasons.
According to the Kenyan newspaper The Star, the objective of the case is to suspend the implementation of Section 3 of the Narcotic Drugs Act in this country, approved in 1994, which contemplates sentences of up to ten years in prison for possession of cannabis for personal use.
"The use of cannabis is prohibited by Section 3 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, but the manifestation of our religion enjoys constitutional and legal protection," explained the group’s lawyer, Shadrack Wambui, in an interview published on the Kenyan television K24TV website.
Kenyan courts recognized Rastafarians as a religious group in 2019, following the case of a student who was expelled from her institute for refusing to cut her dreadlocks.
"Keeping dreadlocks is her way of professing her faith and it is wrong to force her to shave which is against her religion," the judge declared in the sentence, as published then by Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.
The consumption of marijuana, for Rastafarians, is part of their religious ritual considered a "sacrament" to facilitate the connection between Rastafarians and their "Almighty Creator". This plant is widely used for ceremonial, medicinal and culinary purposes and yet it continues being persecuted in this country. The RSK denounces that its members are arrested and taken to court for privately growing and consuming cannabis as part of their rituals and considers that this prohibition violates religious freedom, arguing that the use of this plant already appears in the sacred book of the Rastafarians, the “Holy Piby”.
Rastafarians' relationship with cannabis originates from a theory that claims that remains of cannabis, known in Kenya by various names such as bhang, holyherb, tire, ndom or gode, were found in King Solomon's tomb.
According to Mwendwa Wambua, spokesperson for this association, in his religious group cannabis is used only in meditation sessions. "Marijuana is usually used in a pipe or burned as incense that accompanies praises, or 'Ises', to 'Jah', and a short prayer is always recited or sung before it is burned as incense during prayers," Wambua explains.
Rastafarianism emerged in Jamaica in the 20th century, where the use of cannabis for religious reasons has been allowed for followers of practice since 2015, although only in areas designated as Rastafarian places of meeting and prayer. Nevertheless, the penalty for possession of up to two ounces of cannabis - 56.6 grams - for people who do not profess this religion is a fine of 500 Jamaican dollars (around 2.70 euros), since it is no longer considered a criminal offense.
Ethiopia became the sacred place for Rastafarians, and the birthplace of this religion, since Ras Tafari was crowned in 1930 as their emperor, under the name of Haile Selassie, which made Ethiopia the true Zion (the Promised Land) to which many descendants of African slaves, forced to work on sugar plantations, yearned to return. Cannabis use is illegal even in the city of Shashamane, a city that Emperor Selasie bequeathed to Rastafarians who came from all over the world after the end of World War II. There, possession of cannabis can carry a penalty of up to six months in jail, in addition to a fine.