"When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself." Bob Marley. OM
Ganja is always associated with Bob Marley, the Jamaican Rastaman. So much so that his name will now be branded for sale with some of his favorite strains of the herb currently to be grown in the US, and I would imagine it will eventually be grown and exported from Jamaican soil. Bob Marley, considered a prophet by many Rastafari, always spoke to the benefits of the herb including the healing of the soul, mind and body. Jamaica has partially fulfilled Peter Tosh’s desire to legalize the herb by decriminalizing it through amending the Dangerous Drugs Act, but it has been a long struggle. Perhaps lost in the smoke, is that Jamaica has given official government recognition to the Rastafari community and their use of ganja as sacrament.
Just this February, the BBC matter-of-factly reported, “(t)he law will also allow Jamaica's Rastafarians to use marijuana for religious purposes. The plant is regarded as sacred by members of the faith, and has been celebrated in the island's reggae music.” That is pretty succinct.
However, the law is so much more than just the quoted language. What we have here is the recognition, validation and acceptance of a people’s right to experience religious freedom, Rastafari, which is intricately tied to the cannabis movement. On a spiritual basis it is recognized in Rastafari as sacrament. No different than the use of wine in church.
Indeed issues with the recent legislation exist. The amended Act provides that for Rastafarians the ganja that is cultivated may not be smoked in public places other than at locations registered as places of Rastafarian worship. Rastas don’t generally utilize what others would view as traditional houses of worships – there are no great temples or cathedrals. Rastas assert that their own bodies are the true church or temple of God. There is no need for intermediary of a “church”. Most sacramental observances occur in a Rastaman’s yard, or an outside meeting space.
Ganja helps Rastafari reflect on his actions and actions of others without resorting to violence, and as a means to facilitate communication and spiritual awareness. For clarity of mind, Rastafari also discourage the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Rastafari commune with Jah directly on a spiritual basis and therefore there is no need for an intermediary such as a Priest, Imam or Rabbi. The use of Ganja is sanctioned in Rastafari ceremonies such as Reasonings and Groundations (holy days). As stated biblically “herb is for man”.
The Rastafarian community has also objected to the implementation of the Act. The University of the West Indies and Jamaica’s University of Technology were the first licensed entities by the Jamaican government to grow ganja, albeit for research purposes. Historically, Rasta has not trusted the government, or the promises it has made to the Rastafari community. The Rastafari community does not want to be left without a voice in the process. So to address the above mentioned types of issues Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding has called for the formation of an advisory board which will be comprised of members of the Rastafarian religious community.
Briefly, and not to address the various denominations of Rastafari, to live a Rastafari lifestyle one is to be humble. He is to understand the illness of society as “Babylon” and he is forever seeking the justice and promise of “Zion”. Deeds of hypocrisy, oppression, and injustice are to be condemned, spoken about and fought against. That is why the music of reggae speaks to the same things – political and spiritual corruption, combating injustice, seeking a better society and seeking the right to inhale ganja as a spiritual sacramental right.
Proper Jamaican society, across all color barriers, has had a long standing view that Rastafari, is for those wish to live in the bush up on the hills. With its English sensibilities, proper Jamaican society viewed the sacred act of indulging in ganja as criminal and undermining of governmental authority.
The illegality of the herb provided Jamaican police forces the legal tools they needed to engage the dreadlocked members in roadside interrogations and spying on them in tenement yard neighborhoods. In Jamaican society these continual type of incidents caused a great rift in communities with policing tactics and general distrust amongst police and Rasta. It will be interesting to see how developments in the states of Washington and Colorado, as well as in Jamaica, will prove if legalization of marijuana leads to better relations between police forces and the communities they are serving and protecting. One can speculate as to the potential positive benefits of the anticipated reduced arrests, quicker court dockets, available jail cells and lessening of the stigma of conviction that will occur in Jamaica based on the legislature’s action.
As the Rastafarian movement progressed in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s, Rastafari was inspired by the reggae voices of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Toots Hibbert, Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, Culture, Burning Spear and countless others. These artist spoke not only to the healing effects of the ganja, but to the spiritual and religious as well. These artists and the Rastafari community have been advancing the ganga cause worldwide for decades.
Jamaica has legislatively recognized the right of the Rastafari to use ganja for religious use, even with some issues to be resolved. So Rastaman, give thanks and praise for the victory, and your recognition by the Jamaican Parliament. Smile (all of) Jamaica, the herb has revealed you!