Cannabis has a deeply rooted history in Jamaican culture. Photo credit: Envato.
In Jamaica, many are commonly seen kneading herb in the palms of their hands, and smoking weed. It is a way of life. However, law enforcement pinned down, manhandled, verbally abused and arrested cannabis users simply for smoking weed on the street corner.
Although Jamaica does produce weed, its use was taboo for a very long time throughout society. This is because — similar to America — officials believed cannabis was harmful for consumption, and made laws against its use.
In 2015, the Jamaican government passed an amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act. This effectively decriminalized the possession of up to 2 ounces of weed for personal purposes.
Cannabis in Rastafarianism
Weed is an important part of Jamaican culture, particularly, for the followers of the Rastafarian Faith who believe that weed is essential for meditation and enlightenment.
For example, Ras Tyrone, a second-generation Rasta, ganja helps him to keep his mind at peace.
“Ganja is how we ascend spiritually. When I smoke weed, it keeps me calm and helps me to forget about the world and focus on Jah,” Tyrone told Emerald by email. “Rastas have to smoke the herb because that was Jah’s gift to us for meditation and to get that oneness with him. It is considered the tree of life in the Bible because it heals the mind.”
Bambaata Marley, the eldest grandson of Bob Marley, echoed Tyrone’s statement to Rolling Stone about the spiritual significance of weed.
“It helps connect you with your inner being, the God being. It helps us meditate and dig deep into our souls to find answers to questions that you’re not normally exposed to,” he explained.
Targeted for Smoking Weed
Smoking weed is one of the biggest struggles for the Rastafarian community who has a strained relationship with the Jamaican state because of the laws that criminalized its use.
Reggae singer Bunny Wailer told the Jamaica Observer that despite persecution, Rastas have always seen the positive purpose of weed.
“Rastas have treated marijuana as something legal all along, even though we have been sent to prison for using the herb in our prayer. But this is the time for all these pressures to stop,” Wailer said. “The world is catching up now.”
Tyrone also says that his father was targeted for smoking weed for religious purposes.
“Every time I have to smoke, I would have to hide it,” he added. “Even my own father, when he was alive, was arrested for possession of it and it was barely the size of a dime.”
However, he said that he is happy that policies are changing to decriminalize weed. “I am just glad times have been changing so far and right now, smoking weed is legal [in Jamaica].”
It is a Natural Remedy
Weed is not just used for recreational or spiritual purposes in Jamaica. It is very popular for its health benefits as well — particularly, ganja tea.
In Jamaica, cannabis is referred to as “ganja,” and ganja tea is used as a common medicinal remedy, particularly in the rural parts of the island. For example, an article by cannabis resource guide CNBS, illustrated the positive attributes of the plant.
“Marijuana tea has a long list of health benefits, all of which come from the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant,” wrote CNBS. “THC, for example, is effective at calming pain and treating insomnia. Some people undergoing cancer treatment use THC to quell their nausea.”
The article also mentions that one of the earliest communities to utilize this tea was Jamaica. It is a custom for women who are pregnant to use weed to help to eliminate worry, anxiety and morning sickness.
Christine Scott, a Jamaican citizen, mentioned that weed helped her tremendously with her illnesses.
“My husband was a Rasta man so he believed the herb could cure everything under the sun. He used to make the ganja tea for me to help with my hypertension, frequent headaches, nausea and anytime I was stressed out,” she told Emerald. “It really helped me a lot.”
Ras Tyrone believes that its natural element should be trusted above pharmaceuticals.
“Weed is a medicine from the earth. How can it be bad? It is better than the medications that they are pumping inside of us,” he said. “We do not even know what is inside those pills that they are forcing on us. The medications in the pharmacies have all kinds of side effects but weed has no side effect at all.”
“It’s in my DNA”
Scott recalls how Reggae music improved her view on weed while growing up.
“Growing up in the 80s, ganja was seen as a bad thing by many people. But reggae music turned things around and people started seeing the positive side of it,” she explained.
Reggae icon, Bob Marley, praised cannabis for its spiritual benefits. His daughter, Cedella Marley, told The Washington Post that she believes her father would be pleased to see the cannabis movement has progressed.
“My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb,” she said. “He viewed the herb as something spiritual that could awaken our well-being, deepen our reflection, connect us to nature and liberate our creativity.”
Marley’s wife, Rita Marley, also told The Washington Post that her husband “[…] felt it was important to the world.”
The Marley family helped launch Marley Naturals, a cannabis brand, to honor his legacy, “and help] end the social harms caused by prohibition,” Rita told the publication.
Reggae singer Peter Tosh also advocated for cannabis in his music. His song Legalize it explicitly states his desire to remove the negative stigma attached to weed.
Tosh’s daughter, Niambe McIntosh, is carrying out her late father’s advocacy work, reports the Jamaica Observer. “In his time he faced police brutality, was arrested numerous times but his fight for justice was an everyday thing. So now we must carry out that push for justice… speak out where we see injustice taking place. It’s what my father would want,” she said.
McIntosh is inspired by her father’s work. “He was able to advocate through his music. As an educator I have a voice and a platform, so I use it to speak up and work towards that change that we so desperately seek… It’s in my DNA.”