I just read in Salon.com that Jamaica is about to legalize ganja. And I was puzzled. You mean to tell me it still isn’t legal?
When I was a boy, I used to see the East Indian workers on the banana plantation (where my father was the overseer) puffing contentedly as they took a break from their labor in the hot sun. Everyone knew they were smoking ganja. Nobody seemed to mind, and I can understand why. They needed whatever help they could find to endure the piercing makka and entangling wis they were clearing with their machetes.
Later, when I was a reporter for The Daily Gleaner in Kingston, I routinely saw someone – a man usually – puffing on a hand-rolled “cigarette” with that distinctive aroma as they waited for a bus, strolled through the crowd at West Parade, or whatever.
And I’m sure that just about anyone – Jamaican resident or tourist – who has visited Montego Bay can recall being accosted by a ganja vendor as they walked along the street or lolled on the beach.
Not that the officials didn’t make a show of “eradicating” the weed. Occasionally, some poor wretch would be “draped up” by police because they were high and disturbing the peace. These random arrests provided income for the “pan heads,” as special constables were called. As I remember, the pan heads were paid only for the arrests they made.
And when I worked for the Jamaica Daily News in the early Seventies, we would occasionally run stories about government raids on ganja plantations. I took it for granted that the raids were staged to appease America. Jamaican officials didn’t want to make US lawmakers mad. The island needed that foreign aid money.
I wrote a feature for the Daily News about the ganja plantations on the North Coast. As far as I could tell, there was nothing secretive about them. You could hear massive earth moving machines that local residents attributed to ganja growers. I talked to people who claimed that some ganja convoys were escorted by police to keep them safe from hijackers as they made their way out of the mountains to the nearest port.
And, as the Salon.com article reminds us, Jamaica is home to Rastafarians, who use it as a sacrament. As I recall, the Rastas call it the “wisdom weed” because of the enlightenment they get from it.
So what triggered the decision to make the weed legal after all these years? According to the article, which was written by Phillip Smith and first appeared on the AlterNet web site:
Things have changed. The United States is no longer wielding international drug control treaties as clubs with which to beat down reform efforts and, in fact, is moving unevenly toward marijuana legalization itself. Four states and the District of Columbia have already legalized it, and 14 more have decriminalized it.
Smith goes on to say:
The situation in the hemisphere is similar. Uruguay has already legalized it, while Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico have decriminalized the possession of small amounts. The land of the legendary Lamb’s Bread pot strain and the home of ganja icon Bob Marley is in danger of being left behind when it comes to bringing marijuana laws into the 21st Century.
So you might conclude that the Jamaican authorities have finally seen the light and is abandoning a law that is widely ignored and unevenly applied. But, apparently it’s all about economics.
Smith quotes Justice Minister Mark Golding as saying marijuana law reform could boost the island’s economy. According to the article, Golding put it this way:
We need to position ourselves to take advantage of the significant economic opportunities offered by this emerging industry.