How reggae and dancehall kept ganja on the agenda

The music made marijuana – and now with the rest of the world catching up to Peter Tosh, does our culture still have a place amid the science?

LEGEND: Will Peter Tosh ever get his wish to see a chalice lit up in Buckingham Palace?

“GANJA IS the healing of the nation” – a phrase that I am all too familiar hearing, due to my love of reggae and dancehall music.

Singing about ganja rates as one of the top five topics in such music, the others being bad mind, girls, gangster lifestyle and Father God.

The relationship between marijuana and music didn’t start with reggae, but I think it’s fair to say it’s been the most potent (no pun intended) relationship of all. Jazz musicians had been singing about the reefer from the beginning of the last century, but it was Rastafarians and Jamaicans that were the poster boys for this little green plant.

“When your friends talk about THC or CBD, they sound like scientists”

Legends like Peter Tosh certainly ticked that box with anthems like Legalize It or Buck In Hamm Palace. Reggae as a whole made sure ganja stayed on the agenda, when you think of mammoth hits like Under Mi Sleng Teng, Frankie Paul’s Pass the Tu-Sheng-Peng or Barrington Levy’s Under Mi Sensi.

If you close your eyes, it’s very easy to conjure up that poster of a Rasta man with a big fat spliff in his mouth, but there is more than that to Rastafarians – It’s part of their religion and they see it as a herb of life, a healing medicine and they have preached this for years. It’s a herb that I heard my mother talking about boiling to help my brother’s asthma.

A different view on weed

Since the beginning of the new millennium, it seemed that the bigger heads had taken a different view on weed and we started to see laws being relaxed worldwide. Could it be that “The Babylon System” had discovered what Rastafarians had been preaching about for years?

Yes, I said Babylon System because the “system” have found their way of controlling it and putting labels on it in a manner that the man in Westmoreland, where the best ganja comes from (another song reference), wasn’t able to do.

Even that way of thinking made me realise how deep the phrase “Babylon system” is. It actually was a system and not some throwaway phrase that sounds on point.

“Marijuana is just another of our mother’s medical mysteries”

When you see your friends all talking about THC and CBD levels like they were professors and scientists you know something is going on. Before it would just be “I just got the boom draw” – now it’s like you have to have a degree to understand the different strains and their effects. What happened to the simplicity of what Top Cat spoke about in his 1989 hit Love Mi Ses – “Ses ah herb, and a herb ah ganja, ganja ah weed and a weed ah marijuana”?

Well, in 2020 Top Cat may have to rewrite that line and drop “medical marijuana” in there somewhere.

Let’s be honest, though, marijuana is just another of our mother’s medical mysteries that the world has caught up with. When my mum was making juices out of every vegetable known to man, I never saw any shops selling carrot juice, like they are now.

Do I even need to mention aloe vera, or sinkle bible as mummy used to call it. Let me just say it’s “the system” at work again.

Forward-thinking

What bothers me most of all, though, is where are all the innovators or the people that were persecuted for their beliefs or forward-thinking about this magical plant?

I recently watched a Netflix documentary and was quite sickened to see the industry that had been built with very few of the faces that had probably been selling £10 draws on the street corner. It may sound like a stereotype, but where were the mandem?

We can’t pretend that we never knew one or two people that sold weed, but in this boom, it’s as if that “type” of person has been omitted from the “system” (here’s that word again).

Someone that I know who’s involved who and has a next-level appreciation for marijuana is Damian Marley.

Damian is one of those that has been proactive to get involved in the growth of this billion-dollar industry. Rather than just singing about it and continuing the promotion without benefits other than getting high, he bought and transformed a Californian prison in 2016 to cultivate his own strains.

The irony for Damian is that this is the exact place where weed growers and sellers probably ended up.

Not any more!

With the speed of acceptance that marijuana seems to be getting, is it possible that we may see what Peter Tosh wanted? Will that day arrive of a chalice getting blazed in Buckingham Palace or has that ship just sailed… nudge nudge, wink wink!

This article appears in the February edition of The Voice newspaper – out now – as part of our Lifestyle section’s Cannabis special. To purchase your copy of The Voice newspaper or to subscribe, click here.

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