Ganja Tours, Medical Marijuana and the War on Drugs…..What’s the Big Deal? Pt. II

Peter Tosh – Legalize It

This is Pt.II of my round-up on the the ‘war on drugs’ and Jamaica’s place in it. Read Pt.I here 

Enter Jamaica! In the worldwide discourse about marijuana consumption linked to the war on drugs, the destruction of numerous ganja plantations, and medical marijuana endorsements,  some may say the ganja conversation has finally taken root in Jamaica, so much so, that a conference was planned, proposed papers received after circulation of a sound Call for Papers and all of a sudden, BRAPS!! it was cancelled at the last minute.

Don’t be fooled. This is not a ‘fly by night’ issue. The Report of the National Commission on Ganja headed by Barry Chevannes which earned scant regard from government for many years captured all the issues in what is a longstanding conversation beginning at a scholarly level with research done by colleagues of his – Rubin and Comitas. (Barry in fact led the local team of researchers for the Rubin and Comitas project). Here are excerpts from the book Ganja in Jamaica: The Effects of Marijuana Use by Vera Rubin & Lambros Comitas (1976):

The Jamaica study, sponsored by the Center for Studies of Narcotic and Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, was the first project in medical anthropology to be undertaken and is the first intensive, multidisciplinary study of marihuana use and users to be published. (Foreword, Raymond Philip Shafer, pages v-vi)

… Almost unanimously, informants categorically stated that ganja, particularly in spliff form, enabled them to work harder, faster and longer. For energy, ganja is taken in the morning, during breaks in the work routine or immediately before particularly onerous work.

The belief that ganja acts as a work stimulant and the behavior that this induces casts considerable doubt on the universality of what has been described in the literature as “the amotivational syndrome,” or a “loss of desire to work, to compete, to face challenges….In Jamaica… ganja is central to a “motivational syndrome,” at least on the ideational level. Ganja, in the cultural setting of rural Jamaica, rather than hindering, permits its users to face, start and carry through the most difficult and distasteful manual labor. (page 58)

In addition, ganja, unlike alcohol, has special symbolic attributes. Rastafarian metaphysics, for example, emphasizes and brings into focus general concepts derived from working-class views of ganja. For them, it is “the wisdom weed,” of divine origin, an elixir vitae, documented by Biblical chapter and verse which over-rides man-made proscriptions. Religious authority thus validates and fortifies commitment to its use; … the sacred source of ganja permits a sense of religious communion, marked by meditation and contemplation. (page 151)

The psychiatric findings do not bear out any of the extreme allegations about the deleterious effects of chronic use of cannabis on sanity, cerebral atrophy, brain damage or personality deterioration. There is no evidence of withdrawal symptoms or reports of severe overdose reactions or of physical dependency. The psychological findings show no significant differences between long-term smokers and non-smokers.

Ganja serves multiple purposes that are essentially pragmatic, rather then psychedelic: working-class users smoke ganja to support rational task-oriented behavior, to keep “conscious,” fortify health, maintain peer group relations and enhance religious and philosophical contemplation. They express social rather than hedonistic motivations for smoking.

Ganja as an energizer is the primary motivation given for continued use. …

The failure of policy makers to realize the importance of informal social controls in preventing drug abuse is beginning to be recognized. Michael Sonnenreich, Vice-President of the National Coordinating Council on Drug Education in the United States, observed that drug-taking is socially controlled “when it is routinized, ritualized and structured so as to reduce to a minimum any drug-taking behavior the surrounding culture considers inadvisable. From this analysis there should follow a new approach.” The multidisciplinary findings reported in this volume highlight the underlying role of culture in regulating the use of ganja and conditioning reactions to it-within a structured system of social controls. (Summary, pages 172-3) (See

At the medical level, extensive research has been done by Henry Lowe, Chemist, Cancer Researcher and founder of the R & D Institute, who has called for carefully managed marijuana centres or better yet, a school of marijuana to be set up in Jamaica for local and overseas use to have Jamaica take advantage of its favourable position in the health tourism market. ‘Dr. Lowe believes that all drugs, including marijuana have some negative aspect to them, but the proper use of marijuana could put Jamaica ahead with health tourism’. Dr Lowe in fact welcomed CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta’s contribution to the ganja conversation with his endorsement of ganja’s medical benefits, even amidst other voices in Jamaica such as Anthony Gomes‘ outline of a case for medical marijuana. If we are in doubt therefore, there is no mistaking that the ganja lobby has now been fired up especially in light of initiatives such as that ill-fated Ganja Conference.

Dr Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special “WEED”

Don’t look aghast at Dr Lowe’s suggestion, it is already taking place informally with ‘Ganja Tours’ recently documented in The Guardian. ‘Breezy’ who starred in the article “was showing his illegal patch of budding marijuana plants during a tour of his land”. Writer McFadden stated that “in Jamaica, farmers are offering a different kind of trip for a different type of connoisseur. Call them ganja tours: smoky, mystical – and technically illegal – journeys to some of the island’s hidden cannabis plantations, where pot tourists can sample such strains as “purple kush” and “pineapple skunk”. And, ganja tours are no novelty; they already take place in countries such as the Netherlands.

Jamaica's cannabis tours

Initiatives in 2013 alone saw various calls to decriminalise marijuana including motions brought by Raymond Pryce, Member of Parliament for North East St. Elizabeth, in the House of Representatives on October 8, 2013 amidst extensive debate. The motion comes after much legal and social considerations around criminal sanctions for marijuana use, with climbing numbers incarcerated for such. These initiatives come at the end of a long line of interventions beginning with the recommendations of the National Report on Ganja (2001), outlining the social, medical as well as economic case for legalising ganja.

But hold on. My interest was also piqued with a groundbreaking article published in the November 5 edition of the Jamaica Observer outlining that ganja had received government protection in a pact with Switzerland.  “‘Jamaica’, ‘Blue Mountain Coffee’, ‘Cannabis Sativa’ (ganja); ‘Jamaica Rum’, ‘Jamaican Patties’, ‘Boston Jerk’, ‘Jamaican Ginger’ and ‘Trelawny Yellow Yam’ are among names and brands that Jamaica is moving to protect against misuse or false use.”

It gets  more interesting. Here’s what the article revealed:

“The island recently inked a historymaking bilateral agreement with Switzerland on the protection of geographical indications at the 51st General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva. The Jamaica Protection of Geographical Indications Act of 2004 defines “geographical indication” as a good originating in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Geographical indications serve as important marketing tools in the trading of quality products on the export market, and this has spurred like-minded countries, in this case Jamaica and Switzerland, to negotiate bilateral protection agreements under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These agreements mutually recognise and protect geographical indications in order to facilitate and promote trade with each other, for products and services identified with such designations…The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office and the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property are the authorities designated to act as contact points between both countries on any matter covered by this new bilateral pact, which must be ratified by the governments of both sides in order for it to come into force.”

“Some other protected designations of Jamaica include Jamaican High Mountain Coffee, Catherine’s Peak water, Jamaican Roots wine, Jamaican Jerk, Walkerswood Jerk, Jamaican Allspice, St Andrew Thyme, Jamaica Logwood Honey, Lucea Yam, Jamaica Scotch Bonnet Pepper, Manchester Peppermint, St Elizabeth Escallion, St Elizabeth Thyme, Middle Quarters Shrimps, and Jamaican Pimento. The list also includes Jamaican Ortanique, Jamaican Cocoa, Jamaican Red Pepper, Jamaican Patties, Jamaican Easter Bun, Jamaican Bun, Jamaican Jackass Corn, Bustamante Jaw Bone/ Backbone, Jamaican Paradise Plum, Jamaican Potato Pudding, Jamaican Gizzada, Jamaican Bammy, St Elizabeth Bammy, Jamaican Bissy, Jamaican Cannabis Sativa (For eg CANASOL and ASMASOL), Jamaican Blue Mahoe, Jamaican Cedar, Jamaican Lignum Vitae, Jamaican Bauxite, Jamaica Clay, Jamaican Limestone, St Elizabeth Hodges Clay, Castleton Clay, and Jamaican Thatch.”

So finally there is a move on the part of Jamaica’s power brokers and government officials  to get into the dialogue about marijuana’s decriminalisation and even protection under the law for its citizens and brand related elements. What is of course missing is the conversation on hemp, and the production of value added products for a global hemp economy.

In my study of reggae festivals, the link between Rastafari, hemp production, marijuana use and decriminalisation collided as I tried to disaggregate and classify festivals. Hemp Festivals become worthy of mention as their association with a reggae and in particular Rastafari ethos and livity is unmistakable. Examples of Hemp Festivals include   Portland’s annual Hempstalk Festival (7-8 September, 2013; Emerald Empire Hemp Fest (Eugene, Oregon 19-21 July, 2013, Ann Arbor Hash Bash (since 1972,  Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Annual Hemp Fest (8-9 November 2013, Humboldt County, California, and Extravaganja, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA Many normally feature reggae acts, but the focus is more on legalisation of marijuana and other political ends. They help to highlight a rather sore history of Rastafari and reggae’s engagement with, on the one hand, marijuana use as a sacrament in groundations and celebrations such as Nyabinghi gatherings as well as personal use, but on the other hand, a crucial injustice around persecution for marijuana use based on the ‘war on drugs’ campaign initiated by, among others, the USA which continues to strengthen its marijuana industry. The irony of course is that as Jamaica’s security forces insist on and enforce eradication of marijuana cultivation and export, so is the United States government advancing legislation to increase medical use of marijuana, legalisation of hemp production and decriminalisation of recreational uses of marijuana. It is important to note that declaration of marijuana as a drug dates back to to the early 17th century USA laws with increased restrictions and prohibitions manifesting in the early to mid-20th Century.

I leave you with Peter Tosh’s speech about legalization, Montego Bay,1982-11-27 at the Jamaican World Music Festival. Where are we really? What is the big deal about in the face of such hypocrisy?

Peter Tosh – Speech about Legalization- Montego Bay,1982-11-27


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