In an extraordinary statement a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne apologised to the Rastafarian community for the prohibition of cannabis and called for reparations to be made to them. In response to a request from cannabis activists for a statement for 4/20 day (when cannabis activists celebrate its use) the Prime Minister went beyond anything that we’ve seen from global leaders ending the prohibition of cannabis. It’s worth listening to his groundbreaking statement here.
Here’s the transcript:
“Hi, this is Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda.
The prohibition of Cannabis less than 100 years ago, was prompted not by altruistic motives or concern for the health or well being of users, but to serve the racist, political and economic interests of the global powers at that time.
In the Caribbean, the Rastafari Community has championed the many uses of Cannabis, and have asserted that the herb is utilized as a sacrament in their rituals, in their celebrations and worship. The prohibition and demonization have led to Rastafari being brutalized and castigated by Police and other Government authorities, because of the utilization of the plant Cannabis Sativa.
It is in this context, and now that my Government has liberalized the Legislation regarding Cannabis, and is moving towards the medicinal & other uses of this natural substance, that I have issued a 'genuine' apology to the Rastafarian Community, and have asserted that Rastafari sacramental or spiritual use be acknowledged, and that Rastafari be given a stake in production and benefits to be derived from the medicinal and other uses going forward.
Let us regard this as reparations for Rastafari, for the wrongs inflicted on this significant minority group in our Countries, through the so called 'war on drugs' which evidently was prompted by pernicious prohibition.
There are a number of outstanding points that PM Browne makes in his statement that are worth noting:
- He states that global prohibition from the outset was nothing to do with people’s health and welfare. It wasn’t a health plan gone awry. He then consicely adds that it was racist and primarily served the interests of global powers.
- Then he identifies the way that a minority community has been brutalised by police and government (although Rastafarians aren’t the only ones who’ve been brutalised).
- He then makes his ground-breaking apology and calls for reparations to be made.
- Lastly, he very astutely articulates the fact that not only is the phrase ‘war on drugs’ propaganda, but that its enforcement is built upon ‘pernicious prohibition’.
To be completely honest I, a decades long campaigner for reform, could not have summed up the situation this brilliantly.
Gaston Browne has gone further than any other leader in the world and actually apologised for wrongs inflicted on his watch, not only in Antigua and Barbuda but in the region as a whole.
He has set the bar almost as high as it can go in terms of the message he is sending out to the Caribbean region, the Commonwealth and indeed, the world, with regard to ending the war and repealing prohibition. It would have been all too easy for a black leader from a former colony to purely blame the ‘global powers’ and especially the US, for prohibition. But PM Browne shoulders the responsibility and offers his apology personally.
Global leaders should take note. There is nothing to stop them following PM Browne’s incredible lead, and apologise to the numerous communities (numbering in their tens of millions) that have had wrongs inflicted on them through ‘pernicious prohibition’. Many leaders around world still champion (or remain silent about) a deeply racist policy that has unleashed havoc upon millions of people and imprisoned, sickened and brought early death to hundreds of thousands of some of the most impoverished people on earth.
As we enter the implementation phase of drug policy reform, and legal regulation becomes a reality, global leaders must consider the scale of the devastation that drug prohibition and the drug war have caused. An apology and reparations on the scale of the post war Marshall Plan are necessary. Sadly, whilst the war continues to rage, only the likes of PM Browne have the wisdom and humility to tell the truth and demonstrate their commitment to a post drug war peace.
Author: Danny Kushlick, Head of External Affairs at Transform Drug Policy Foundation.