Famous for its beaches, music and the Rastafari legacy of its people of African descent, the Caribbean island of Jamaica is heaven on Earth. Many reasons bring people to this dream destination. Tourists from all over the world visit the island to discover the Rastafari culture and, some of them, to try one of the most renowned cannabis strains in the world: the Jamaican strain.
More Than Just Cannabis Culture
Before getting into cannabis, we must first get acquainted with the reasons why this plant is considered a sacred herb for the Rastafari culture. Under English occupation, the number of slaves in Jamaica doubled. With no one to look at and ravaged by slavery, the Jamaican people witnessed the birth of a leader: Marcus Garvey, who founded the Rastafarian belief in 1920, based on his historic prophecy: “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand.” Garvey embodies the idea of spiritual struggle to the extent that he is deemed as the reincarnation of the greatest prophet in the Bible, Moses.
Rastafarianism is a religious and cultural movement which regards Haile Selassie as the “messiah” and a godsend. Marijuana is the vehicle for enlightenment and one’s connection with Haile Selassie. Selassie was the last “Descendant of Solomon” to reign on Ethiopia’s imperial throne. During his rule, he earned so many followers and so much prestige that he was proclaimed the new reincarnation of Christ. Being a Rasta is about an attempt to undo some of the wrongs in this world. It means being related to The Creation and being connected with His Imperial Majesty as one of his sons. Rastafarianism preaches love and the unity of all nations.
Exodus to the Promised Land
Up on Jamaican hills—the closest one can get to the sky—the most spiritually committed Rastafarians prepare for their journey across the Atlantic in exodus to the promised land, Ethiopia. Just as Christians celebrate the eucharist, Rastafarians celebrate their sacrament: consuming marijuana to reach God. This does not mean strictly smoking, in fact, weed is used as a form of cleansing, burnt together with incense. Marijuana acts as a bridge between the Earthly and the Divine. There is a relationship between the spirit and cannabis aromas. However, not every Rasta uses cannabis and, under law on this island, this practice is forbidden. Jamaican law currently prohibits growing, possessing, using, and selling any recreational drugs. This statute has been arbitrarily upheld in cases of possession for personal use, and has entailed a great effort on the part of law enforcement agencies, prisons, and courts.
People know that the illegal status of cannabis represents a great cost for society and has put young Jamaican men—especially—at risk of receiving disproportionate punishments that end up on their criminal records and carry serious consequences.
Is marijuana legal in Jamaica?
Yet, in Jamaica and some Latin American countries, marijuana has earned popular and political support, particularly over the last ten years. In 2013, the Jamaican House of Representatives passed a motion to decriminalise marijuana possession for personal use by unanimous vote. Fenton Ferguson, Minister of Health of Jamaica, announced in November 2013 that he was completely in favour of legalising marijuana medical marijuana.
In June 2014, the Jamaican government adopted a series of important amendments to laws governing marijuana. Justice Minister Mark Golding stated that the cabinet supports a proposal that allows possession of up to two ounces (57 grams) of marijuana. Golding also claimed that marijuana should be legal for religious, medical, and scientific purposes. This movement has been widely backed by “Rastafarians, businesspeople, and even members of the clergy of conservative Jamaican churches. The bill was introduced in the Senate in January, 2015, and was then passed on February 6th, 2015. Then, the House of Representatives adopted the bill on February 24th, 2015.
Since 1913, the growth, sale, and possession of any illegal substances (including cannabis) has been prohibited under Jamaican law. Still, cannabis, or ganja, is frequently used in this country. A 2001 study shows that almost half of all Jamaicans has tried this substance.
Bob Marley: the Rasta Champion
“I don’t have a religion, you know. This is what I am. I am a Rastaman; so this is not religion. This is life.” said Bob Marley. Rastafarianism is a spiritual philosophy that has been disseminated through Bob Marley’s music. This is not just a religion; this is a whole movement and a way of life—holistic, profound, and free.
Junior Marvin, guitarist of the legendary band Bob Marley & The Wailers, says that anyone can be a Rasta: one must only crave for the truth—one must always seek the truth. What matters here is that either through innocence, meditation, or the so-called “intellect,” Rastas find peace and the truth.Marijuana is still part of Jamaican culture, religion, and identity. The country has signed several international treaties on drug control, among which we can highlight the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.