Nov 22, 2022 Letters
This letter is an attempt on my part to make up for the many issues I failed to comment on, because of a change in my situation. I am now accepting an offer of help in communicating, some days after a friend read to me the column by Freddie Kissoon in Kaieteur News on long-delayed and incomplete legislation on the outstanding issue of marijuana. From all that can be gleaned by my friend’s search, the ruling cultural and political groups in Guyana have not freed themselves from the well-known colonial attitudes toward the herb. From the article I mentioned, I learned that there was recent legislation that introduced some welcome reforms, but ultimately left the sacred herb essentially criminalized. A few words of solidarity at this point with the Rastafarian Council is of little help to them and the cause, but should help as I intend to use it as a teaching lesson. All one can do from this distance is to use events as teaching lessons, especially when actual teaching is going on in the location at home in Guyana and is perhaps being largely ignored.
The first teaching moment, for me, which jolted me into action was when I sat at a press table at the Magistrate’s Court I, Georgetown, and heard the Chief Magistrate, a male, order the police to take an unrepresented prisoner from the docks, and have him shaved and brought back in the afternoon. I resolved, there and then, to begin having my hair braided, and returned to the court as often as I could, to attract the magistrate’s attention. I failed to do so.
Guyana is perhaps the country least responsive since independence to the need to carry out a social and scientific study of the herb from a historical and social justice perspective. In my activities in communities along the coast and in the hinterland over the years, it became clear to me that however, the use of the herb began it always seems to be an issue of ethnicity relating only to certain age-groups in the African and Indian communities (I find this point somewhat unclear). As I argued in my introduction to Horace Campbell’s 1987 book Rasta and Resistance, the Rastafari culture has been very enabling to aspects of the lifestyle of many classes as they broke out of their original strata. In return, the bulk of them received some notoriety, much persecution, and jail sentences in unexpected places. In our own Guyana, I remember a very disrespectful editorial in the state-owned Guyana Chronicle demeaning Rastafarians and causing the late Andaiye, an authentic middle-class womanist-feminist, to write a sharp rebuke which the newspaper published.
There has been persistent failure to treat the herb as an aspect of the political economy of certain groups. I expect one disputation on this opinion, and welcome it, since I am also in search of information. I want to close by referring to the almost red-carpet treatment given to the advocates of hemp during the 2020 general election campaign to the present. As I recall it, I first heard advocacy of hemp on a New York television programme hosted by Guyanese anxious to break out of the limits of the traditional economy. Before that, I read about hemp in geography books. The advocates of hemp had clearly done a lot of study and were able to convince the authorities who took over the administration of the country. Within a year or two, the government was able to announce officially that hemp growing was on the agenda. The question is whether enough investigation has been done to explore the potential of marijuana as an agricultural crop with a
market in any section of the health and pharmaceutical sectors.
With good luck, I hope to explore some other events of the recent past which strike me as teaching lessons that have not received the attention they deserve.
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