Rastafari RootzFest – Shining Example of RASTA UNITY

‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in UNITY.” PSALM 133

rootzfestThis Psalm was brought to life at the Rastafari RootzFest-HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup held in Negril November 12-15. The event was a celebration of joy by all those whose daily lives have been conducted under the fear of arrest for partaking of a plant that provides them medicinal healing as well as sacramental inspiration. The thousands of RASTA who have passed on to higher heights before seeing the fulfillment of their life campaign, must have been looking down and smiling with the same joy being expressed by the thousands gathered at the beautiful Negril Beach Park.

DSC03082Most of all, Rastafari RootzFest was a celebration of RASTA Unity that many people claim no longer exists within the movement at home. The disputes that have taken center stage in RASTA news this past year were nowhere in sight, as RASTA from all Mansions joined together in UNITY to participate in the event and show their approval of the revision of Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Law. Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, Boboshanti, House of Dread, School of Vision, Youth Initiative Council, as well as RASTA ganja farmers representing several Parishes united in Negril in a show of solidarity that surely heralds a new beginning for RASTAFARI.

INITIAL RESERVATIONS     I was one of those RASTA who expressed initial reservations about the proposal that US magazine HIGH TIMES, an outspoken advocate of legalization for recreational use, would partner with a group of RASTA to host a Cannabis Cup in Jamaica. It seemed like exploitation of a high order, especially as the group was not an existing RASTA organization but a company formed specifically for the purpose and I questioned the ‘sacramental’ nature of the event that had earned the proposal’s approval by the Sacramental Committee set up by Minister of Justice Mark Golding.

logoApplying for and receiving media accreditation as RASTA RADIO JA, I attended the launch at the Bob Marley Museum and my reservations vanished when I saw and heard the speeches by the many RASTA involved in the event. In fact, no representative of HIGH TIMES spoke or was present at the event. It was strictly Roots RASTA, and from Ras Iyah-V, the chief organizer, to the representatives of several Mansions who spoke, it was clear that the event was truly a RASTA event. Several RASTA friends told me of how eagerly they anticipated the event as an opportunity to earn at the booth they had rented in the Rasta Indigenous Village, and especially of how eagerly they were looking forward to an event that allowed them to use ganja as freely as they desired.

Noting my report after the launch, Professor Charles Nesson – one of the event organizers – wrote inviting RASTA RADIO JA to share our broadcast coverage with his Berkman Center at Harvard University, a welcome opportunity to share news, interviews and information to a wider audience.

villageFIRST REPORT         Arriving in Negril on Thursday in time for the launch, we were greeted by a beautiful sight. The Long Bay Beach Park is a nice stretch of the Negril beach that has been set aside for the public. On one side was a vast football field with tents displaying samples and promotional material of ganja related products mostly from US entrepreneurs whose booths attracted the most interest from the many foreigners present.

The other half of the Park housed the Rastafari Indigenous Village — the real heart of the event and a beautiful scene of RASTA life. First a food court with several stalls offering a variety of Ital dishes, then a cluster of tents housing Rastafari Mansions – Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes, House of Dread, School of Vision , Boboshanti — leading into a beautiful craft exposition spread out under trees on the sand.

Tents fluttered Red, Gold and Green decor and pictures of the Emperor. There was jewelery of all kinds from a variety of natural woods, seeds and beads; steam chalices with short and long pipes; intricately carved calabash bowls; fresh fruit and squeezed juices. But most of all, most stalls offered branches and buds of ganja for sale, as well as products made from ganja such as oils for medicine, foods, cosmetics and wines. Tent holders seemed happy with the flow of business and music gave appropriate sounds for the occasion.

DSC03157RASTA RADIO JA          With portable internet and 2 laptops, RASTA RADIO JA was able to broadcast live pictures from the Village and interviews with vendors and visitors. I was especially glad to speak with Rick Cusick, HIGH TIMES Editor, a very happy man who said how pleased he was with how the Festival was manifesting and gave some history of how it all came about from a desire that began when the very first celebrity cover issue of HIGH TIMES 40 years ago carried a photo of Bob Marley. He said he was proud and delighted that HIGH TIMES was a part of world history, and that the liberalization of Jamaica’s ganja law is an example that the rest of the world will follow. He reminded me of our first meeting a year ago when he came to discuss the event with Ras IyahV and Kubba Pringle, saying what a loss Kubba’s passing has been to Negril and to the Westmoreland ganja movement, and paying tribute to his memory.

SATURDAY SUNSHINE        On Saturday the sunshine welcomed a crowd of visitors to the Village. At midday Priest Fagan of the Rastafari School of Vision conducted Sabbath prayers, then music by Natural High sound system provided an irie backdrop to the comings and goings of the curious and the committed. As dusk fell, Ras Iv-I led a Nyabinghi chant that gathered a large crowd of participants, singing and dancing to the drumbeat. Short speeches closed the ceremony, and the Village settled in to receive the night’s visitors.

On the beach, the crowd gathered by a Sumfest-level stage featuring a dynamic opening performance by Jah9, who showed why she is in such international demand. Performances followed by Luciano, The Mighty Diamonds and I-Wayne. Patrons were were arriving as I left the Park, thinking of all the GanJAH warriors fought the hard battle to get RASTA to this day when the herb is FREE to use! I remembered such GanJAH warriors now ancestors whose spirits were surely with us in Negril.

DSC03094ORGANIZERS   Special mention must be made of five people whose work was crucial to the event’s success. Sister Mitzie Williams is well known as a RASTA voice on many issues and actions. At RootzFest she showed herself to be a true RASTA leader whose greatest asset is her ability to retain her cool and composure under all circumstances, never raising her voice even when speaking firmly to resolve a situation. Her quiet supervision of all aspects of the event, and her motherly female personality provided the confidence and firm foundation on which the event proceeded. She is to be highly praised.

Rick Cusick, HIGH TIMES Editor and chief negotiator with Rasta In Inity, deserves praise for the easy manner in which he manifested the partnership with RASTA culture. HIGH TIMES funding and the contacts that brought so many foreign exhibitors to compete joyously in Jamaica, enabled the event to be an excellent start for what will surely become a regular annual event. The rain flooded the Cannabis Cup field, but did not discourage hundreds from visiting the stalls and learning more about exotic strains and new products such as BHO a.k.a ‘shatter’ – a THC xtract turned into a dry gum or oil that is the new and more healthy way of using ganja through electronic smokeless vaporizer pipes. Many eyes were opened by the Cannabis Cup and it was good to see Jamaican entries among the winners.

Prof. Charles Nesson & Ras Iyah-V

Prof. Charles Nesson & Ras Iyah-V

Ras Iyah-V was statesman-like in his speeches and presentations. He especially excelled in his speech at the Ganjah Seminar held by the Beckley Foundation, hosted by Countess Amanda Whyms. He is to be commended for being bold enough to accept the HIGH TIMES proposal, despite much negative pressure, and to make it manifest in a manner that was both sacramental as well as economic. His constant insistence that grass roots ganja farmers must be the chief beneficiaries of the revised law, gives confidence that he will use the power and influence that the success of the RootzFest has given him to keep that objective in sight.

Law Professor Charles Nesson shocked his Harvard University years ago when he admitted being a ganja smoker. Through his love of Jamaica, he followed the discussions leading to the revised ganja law, then persuaded his HIGH TIMES friends to partner with Rastafari In Inity to celebrate the new GanJAH Freedoms. Nesson’s activism at the highest levels of the national and international legalization campaign provided the assurance the organizers needed to move forward with the project. His presence at the event (with his wife Fern, whose photos decorate this article) added to the organizational help.

And last, but by no means least, the Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding deserves highest commendation and praise from the RASTA community for the measured and intelligent way in which he guided the revision of the ganja laws through Parliament, with especial consideration for the RASTA community which has suffered and advocated for legalization. Ignoring critics, Golding has treated the RASTA community with total RASpect throughout the process and has thereby earned himself in return a similar high level of RASpect and LOVE.

RASTAFARI UNITED              Rastafari RootzFest was a very peaceful 4 days and nights of Rastafari UNITY, with not a single incident of crime, no fights, not even a bag snatching. Some of the celebrities who mingled with the crowd included Rohan Marley, Donisha Prendergast, Jah9, Chronnix, Kiddus I, Jah Cure and Mutabaruka.  It was wonderful to have been there and I look forward to a bigger, better event next year.


(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah

ALL PHOTOS: (c) Fern Nesson


Mark Wonder – Righteous Revolutionary

mark-wonder-thumbAlthough Jamaica has no shortage of roots reggae singers, Mark Wonder is truly a wonder, a musical force that must be reckoned with for his powerful lyrics and old-school reggae songs. Blessed with an awesome musical talent with a vocal range of several octaves, his powerful and infectious vocal delivery cannot be disputed. What sets him apart from many is the lyrical commitment to songs to inspire continued progress on the pathway of righteous Rastafari progress. His words peak the spiritual thoughts of true Rastafari and his songs serve as their expression of philosophy.

Born in Kingston, Mark Wonder says his desire to become a reggae singer was influenced by his own Jamaican legends such as Burning Spear, the Wailers, Bob Andy, Black Uhuru, Barrington Levy, Marcia Griffiths, Beres Hammond, the Abyssinians, Israel Vibration, and Dennis Brown. After honing his craft in and around some of the small sound systems within his and neighboring communities, he began to work with top sound systems. After a brief stint with Black Stars he moved on to Black Scorpio, who eventually launched his recording career.

black scorpioAnswering questions about this early experience, Mark Wonder credits Jack Scorpio with giving him “… a real learning experience. You know nothing about the business, so you need the experience. You are working with a big producer and end up working with some of the big names in the business.”

As he grew, other artists influenced his career.  “I was a young Rastafarian at the time, and many artists brought me a certain kind of vibe.”

Mark’s first single was called “Caution”, then came a slew of other releases that started his growth as a leading artist. He has grown tremendously over the years, creating a unique style of his own and unleashing numerous powerful singles that have positioned him now as one of the top Jamaican roots vocalists.

draonslayerListening to his album “Dragon Slayer”, released June 16 by Irie Ites Records out of France, one cannot resist singing or rocking to his quality creations which have a universal appeal whether he is praising the Almighty, chanting revolutionary songs laced with social commentary, or keeping the fire of the ancient ones ablaze. His joyful expressions and contagious love songs are also exemplary of the breathtaking quality and range of this amazing and gifted singer. Sticking to the traditional rhythms, Mark Wonder keeps listeners focused with his sweet voice on the original musical vessel that has carried Rastafari’s message to the world.

His album ‘Dragon Slayer’ was launched in 2017 at Inna De Yard, the Rastafari sacred space where guitarist Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith hosts artists and musicians he endorses as presenting true Rastafari quality in their music. Mark Wonder certainly deserves this honour, as this new album fully displays a presentation of his best that some say deserved to be included in this year’s Grammy nominations.

Every song is an anthem, this lyrics providing the beat of an army marching forward to deal with the issues of the day. In the crowd of songs about love and life, Wonder’s tracks serve like a Field Marshall as inspiration for JAH Army, shouting out above the noise of modern life to focus on the true war. His song ‘I’m a Revolutionary Rebel’ describes his revolution ‘… I’m fighting for the cause, nah look no applause…”. ‘Rude Boy’ challenges those who claim to be Rasta in a ‘rude boy’ way, asking them where is their militancy, why are they are not giving Rastafari all the glory instead. It’s a call to the battlefield. “Rise up Israel from your sleep and slumber, chant and sing break them asunder, things hard but they’re not forever, Rastafari Live For Iver…” His single “Hail JAH” has become one of Rastafari’s popular anthems.

jah loveAsked why he chooses to sing the songs he does, Mark Wonder says: “For me that is where reggae should be, I don’t know where some people are at, at the moment. They are the ones at the forefront, but what they presenting is not the true pattern or authentic vibration of what reggae music is. I am coming from the old school, and am I trying to preserve that rich heritage, the culture and roots of reggae music.”

Mark has recorded several albums to date which include “Signs of the Times”, “Jeremiah”, “Break the Ice”, “Live at the Couple”, “Victory: The Mystery Unfolds” which was released on his own imprint Battle-Axe Muzik Production, “True Stories of Mark Wonder and Friends” and “Working Wonders”. Mark’s “SCROLLS OF THE LEVITE” is a NowTime Sound with 13 outstanding tracks that received praise in Jamaican and international media. He has continues to record with established international artists as Sizzla Kalonji, Anthony B and Gentleman, as well as roots labels such as AL.TA.FA.AN Records, Addis Records, Bobby Digital, Irie Ites, Oneness Records and NowTime Sound.

Known as a shy and humble person off stage, Mark gives all credit for praise he receives to JAH Rastafari, saying “If it wasn’t for JAH, I would not be able to speak out in song. When I am onstage I am just an instrument of JAH.” Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner newspaper has described Mark as reminiscent of some of the great ones before him. He smiles and says he wishes there were more of such comments to help move his career to higher heights.

markwonder2Nowadays, too much of reggae music is like pop music, yu know,” says Mark Wonder. “I want to stick to the roots. Because that is what reggae music is all about. People like me, who are deep within the roots who have a spiritual sense, they haven’t had much of a look in, because we are not into certain things. The industry today is like a circus. We are not into those kind of things.”

Like many roots-reggae artistes, Mark Wonder has established a fan base in Europe through consistent touring. He says that his numerous visits to Europe, especially Switzerland and Holland, have opened up his mind to things he never knew before, and showed that Rastafari message applies to people all over the world. The overwhelming audience reaction at his performance at Bibelot Dordrecht 2017 shows how well known and well loved he is. Time alone will spread his name and music to an ever-wider fan base for this Righteous Reggae Reolutionary.


The Jamaica Indigenous Heirloom Seeds Exchange & Spoken Wordz Show

takuraAs the tides change in the Reggae landscape from the days of the founding fathers to today’s era of the Reggae Revival, Dub Poetry has always played an important role in the brand of Jamaican Reggae that maintains the Rootical vibration.

RasTakura is an active member of this genre, a creative artist who classifies himself as a Jamaican Reggae Dub Poet, recording and performing artist, farmer and conscious Rastaman carrying on the tradition of poets like Oku Onora, Linton Kwesi Jonson and Mutabaruka, who he calls a Mentor and Father Figure.Taking his poetry to another level, Ras Takura is also the founder of the annual DIS POEM Wordz & Agro Festival, an all day Poetry festival and expo of Agricultural Products hosting Jamaica’s first Ital Organic Seeds exchange Seed fi Seeds.

seedsDIS POEM presents the works of contemporary Poets in an annual community building event that uses Spoken Word to amplify the need for Food Security and to collect and store Ital Organic Heirloom seeds from farmers to farmers through Seed fi seeds exchange.The first staging of DIS POEM took place in March 2011 in recognition of World Poetry Day on the campus of the College Of Agriculture Science & Education as a collaborative alliance between RasTakura and the Students’ Council of CASE.

takura2VISION         The Vision of DIS POEM Wordz & Agro Festival is to become the leading Spoken Word Festival that brings Dub Poetry to an international audience, as well as the largest Ital Organic Heirloom Seeds Exchange show. While the event has been focused on the Spoken Word, the entire movement is one that supports sustainable community development as the core, and Farmers are always invited to participate in the Organic Seeds exchange and market their produce to the patrons that attend the event, thereby creating long term business relationships.

dis poemOver the last 7 years the DIS POEM stage has been graced by Readers/Performers such as Mutabaruka, Cherry Natural, Randy Maclaren, Prof. Carolyn Cooper, Nomaddz, RasTakura, Oku Onoura, Sunni Patterson(usa), DYCR, Steppa, Adzeeko Simba ,Dr. Micheal Abrahams and more. The 2017 staging of the festival saw over 1000 patrons in attendance.

DIS POEM is the ultimate meeting place for Readers and Writers. Poets sit and talk about the Spoken Word/Dub Poetry as a developing art form, and the event always features international Poets and Poetry Promoters from the Caribbean and other Parts of the world who attend and scout Poets for their events.

The experience is children friendly as it also features young poets and this year’s event includes an 11 year old girl who has already attracted attention on social media, and Barrington Mitchell, a young poet who presented his first book of 24 poems to the Ministry of Culture in November 2017.

takura3INSPIRATION        RasTakura gains his inspiration from H.I.M. Haile Selassie I, Marcus Garvey, Tehut 9, Mutabaruka, Capleton, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. His agricultural and environmental roots were deepened at the Knockalva Agricultural School, and studies at the College of Agriculture, Science & Education (CASE), where the first DIS POEM was staged.

Ras Takura has performed on some of Jamaica’s major shows including Reggae Sumfest, Rebel Salute, Heineken Startime, plus numerous appearances in schools, Colleges and Universities across the Island. He has been featured on Jamaican media in IRIE FM’s programs – Running African, the Entertainment Buzz and Elise Kelly’s Easy Skanking show in numerous interviews. He has been featured on T.V.J, CVM TV, as well as in several local print media .

parkHe has also toured and performed across the Caribbean and USA. In 2015 he toured and performed across the East & West Coast of USA at some of the major Poetry and Reggae Festivals, including Viginia Reggae Festival, Bridge Water College Intl Poetry Festival, Charlemont Reggae Fest, Vermont Jerk & Reggae Fest, NYC Poetry Fest, World Beat Center and The University of Colorado.  

DIS POEM takes place at the beautiful Neville Antonio Park, Port Antonio, April 29.



by Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah
village2016 was a year of mixed blessings. The RASTAFARI Nation began the year smiling at the success of the first entertainment event at which Sacramental Rights enabled the use and sale of Ganja for the first time. The Rastafari RootzFest in Negril sponsored by HIGH TIMES Magazine in December 2015 at which Rastafari culture, arts & crafts and music were on display with ganja plants and products, was followed in January by the Rebel Salute music show at which Sacramental Rights again enabled the sale and use of the Holy Herb.

ELECTION CHANGES    The Election in February had a surprising result that upset predictions that the PNP would continue its rule, and instead brought forward another chance for the JLP to govern under a new leader. Among the changes that resulted from the change in administration, the threat was removed of the Goat Islands being turned from an ecological sanctuary into a hub of Chinese commerce. The power of China that had appeared in all aspects of the national development, economy, business and even education also diminished in 2016, even after the opening of a major cross-island highway.

image001DAWTA OF JAH    In April I had the good fortune to spend a blessed week lecturing to students at Texas Christian University on aspects of Rastafari culture and philosophy. I spent a further three weeks in America observing and resting in that unique society as it prepared for its own election. However, issues of wanton and racist police brutality threw the USA into national turmoil that was further increased by the campaign of the Republican candidate, who later surprised the world by winning the opportunity to replace Barak Obama as the next US President. Thanks to his controversial opinions on traditional international relations, racial and religious minorities and the international economy, the world awaits his rule with increasing fear.

emperor_haile_selassie_i_visits_jamaica_smH.I.M. VISIT COMMEMORATED    Also in 2016 the Rastafari Nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the visit to Jamaica by H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Defender of the Holy Orthodox Faith, with a ceremonial recreation of his triumphant motorcade from the Kingston airport, as well as a series of activities over three days to commemorate and institutionalize this special history.  The Emperor’s Grandson H.I.H. Prince Ermis Sahle Selassie, Chairman of the Ethiopian Crown Council, officiated.

CRIME & VIOLENCE INCREASE     In Jamaica, the violence of 300 years of slavery in which this nation was born, manifested itself in a rise in murders, especially of women by male partners, as well as acts of a criminal underworld financed by the scamming industry. The situation is so unmanageable that the Commissioner of Police resigned, leaving a vacuum that seems impossible to be filled.

OLYMPIC GLORY    One great good light for Jamaica in 2016 was the rise of Usain Bolt to legendary status by winning three Olympic Gold medals in Rio to crown a career that began with similar wins in the two previous Olympics. As Jamaica celebrated with and for him, Bolt’s playboy behavior off the track celebrating his achievement diminished the glory of that sparkling moment of history. Though Jamaica was still proud of him, his crown seemed a little tarnished thereafter.

HURRICANE MATTHEW PASSES OVER     Thanks to our prayers, the island was spared a devastating hurricane that promised to be the worst in our history, but the destruction was diverted to our Northern neighbours Cuba and Haiti, neither of which could afford it either. We gave thanks and sent what help we could to our sister islands. fidel

VIVA FIDEL!     Cuba suffered the loss of their great leader Fidel Castro who, despite efforts by international media to diminish the glory of his reputation, was hailed by Jamaica and Third World countries especially in Africa as a revolutionary hero whose life work helped liberate those living under European colonialism. Jamaica especially remembers him fondly for his many gifts to our nation. The opening up of US relations with Cuba by  President Obama opens the way for a new history for Jamaica’s closest neighbor.


RASTA RADIO JA interviews Sister Carol @ RootzFest

RASTA ROOTZFEST 2016      The year 2016 closed with another successful staging of Rastafari RootzFest, this time organized by a fully Jamaican organization, with emphasis on locally-grown ganja and associated products.  However, the event left unanswered several important issues of concern to the Rastafari Nation. These include the future of the Pinnacle lands, the building of the promised Pinnacle National Heritage monument, as well as the payment of outstanding reparations to victims and descendants of the Coral Gardens genocidal brutality.

Most important is the necessity for the Jamaican Government to establish a firm relationship with the Rastafari Nation relating to the development of Ganja business. Plans for issuing of licenses for production and sale of medical marijuana have not properly acknowledged the traditional role of Rastafari in the ganja industry, nor provided compensation or opportunities for those who for decades were the sole advocates and maintainers of ganja agriculture, when such activity was illegal and resulted in violence and imprisonment for ganja farmers — most of whom were and are Rastafari.

sela4LEGALIZE IT!     The high costs to enter the ganja industry as proposed by the Cannabis Licensing Authority, as well as the fact that ganja is still not fully legalized for purchase by recreational and sacramental users, are just some of the many problematic issues that will need time and harmonious discussion to be suitably resolved.

The RASTAFARI Nation looks forward to building on the important changes brought by the revision of the Dangerous Drugs Act – including a name change of this important legislation — to reflect the inheritance Jamaica has received from the pioneers who paid the bitter price to make the GanJAH Green Gold become positioned now as the salvation of the Jamaican economy. FORWARD in 2017!!!

RASTA Speaks at the UN on Ganja

iyahV1As the United Nations meets on April 20-21 in a Special Session to discuss potential reform of international drug laws, a most unusual member of the Jamaican delegation is Ras Iyah-V, a RASTA leader, Elder, and one of the most outspoken advocates of legalization who has helped push the Jamaican Government to this historic position. Ras Iyah-V’s role as founder of the Westmoreland Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association (WHGFA) has made him the ‘face’ of the RASTA nation’s demands for recognition and compensation for more than eight decades of persecution for RASTA use of the ‘holy herb’.

Jamaica is currently at the forefront of global cannabis reforms, developing policies that aim to protect health, reduce harms and respect human rights. After over 100 years of cannabis prohibition in Jamaica, the Rastafari community, which has long campaigned for its religious freedoms, and the many Jamaicans who use ganja for its medicinal purposes, are finally having their voices heard. In April 2015 the Jamaican government legaliezd the use of cannabis for medical and sacramental use, recognizing for the first time the religious rights of the Rastafari people. The legislation set the way for Jamaica to become a global hub for research, to provide jobs, improve the economy and especially for cultural understanding, with the government declaring its determination to protect the interests of the Rastafari and small farmers.


Ras Iyah-V with Justice Minister Mark Golding & Amanda Feilding, Beckley foundation

Born and grown in Westmoreland like Jamaica’s most famous ganja strain, 67-year-old Verald Vassall, better known as Ras Iyah-V, has been a RASTA all his life and – like all RASTA – has been fighting for the right to grow and use the herb all his life. Speaking at a conference held November 2015 by the Beckley foundation in Negril, Ras Iyah-V said:

Growing up as a Rastafarian, I decided I was not going to sit down and watch Rastafari and grass roots people being continually persecuted for a plant. I remember in 1987 I had an argument with the former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga and I asked him ‘Who is man to make law against something that was created by the same power that created him man?’ Because if we are going to look at a plant and say its illegal, then technically or indirectly we are saying that money is illegal, and if we are going to say that we and other people are all illegal, then I think it is the end of the world.


sela4Since the inception of the movement, RASTA has been systematically persecuted, brutalized, imprisoned and even killed just for using a plant. So I began organizing marches, writing to the Government, doing all that I thought was possible for the Government to acknowledge the rights of Rastafari, that if you don’t want to legalize, at least you should decriminalize. I have done a lot of research on marijuana both from a scientific and from a legal point of view. Legally I am not a lawyer, but I am knowledgeable enough to know that the United Nations Charter has given constitutional rights to individuals, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, as long as in so doing you are not infringing upon the rights of other people.”

Ras IyahV does not mince words. Having closely followed and agitated for the reform of Jamaica’s ‘ganja laws’ he is satisfied with what has been done and is prepared to support the Government’s steps to pressure the international laws against use, production and sale of ganja. He is therefore delighted to have an opportunity as a member of Jamaica’s marginalized RASTA people to join the Jamaican Government and present a case before the international organization on April 21.

I don’t have any international obligation to the International Narcotic Board,” he says, “but the Government do and as such we and other people have an obligation to make sure that what the Government is doing is in our interests. It is also my responsibility to make sure that we protect the Government, not that I am saying that I am supporting all the laws and everything, but when it comes to the cannabis industry I am prepared and reasoned to give support to the Government because at the end of the day whether we want it or we don’t want it, those are the rules and regulations that we have to abide by simply because Jamaica has been so mismanaged that we no longer control our destiny. IMF runs Jamaica.”

Well known and respected by the RASTA community for his years of work defending RASTA rights, and especially as an activist seeking compensation for the notorious Coral Gardens Incident when RASTAs were subjected to weeks of brutality some call attempted genocide that started on Good Friday, 1954, Ras Iyah-V has earned the right to be a spokesperson for the RASTA nation.

10167957_251509848370305_623056230931337043_nWESTMORELAND HEMP & GANJA FARMERS ASSOCIATION

As the Government began national talks and conferences to seek a pathway for reform of the Dangerous Drugs Law, Ras Iyah-V formed the WHGFA in 2014 as the first and most active group of Jamaican Ganja farmers. Based in the world-famous ganja-growing Parish, WHGFA started early to organize and register their farmers. They held several positive meetings with the Minister at which they explained the position of their members and discussed necessary reforms.

Rising up as the first grassroots organization to gain local and international respect from the people, government, potential business partners, and other stakeholders for advancing the interest of grassroots people, traditional farmers, WHGFA ‘s establishment ignited the formation of other parish associations and alliances. and Rastafari, such as the Hanover Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association, St. Ann Ganja Farmers Association, St. Mary Ganja Farmers Association, St Thomas Ganja Farmers Association, Portland Ganja Farmers Association, & St. Catherine Ganja Farmers Association for joining the movement.

Noting the formation of a “Ganja Future Growers Association” whose members had to sign a statement that they were NOT ganja farmers, Ras Iyah-V was outraged. “We cannot step back and allow those who have persecuted the growers and users of ganja to benefit, while those who have kept the ganja industry alive for decades of suffering are marginalized and excluded. If you do that, we will take to the streets! If we are to develop this industry it must benefit Rastafari and it must benefit grass root people because these are the people who have borne the brunt of the persecution. It is we who when everybody was going left, right and centre, I&I were the ones who have kept true to the cause of legalization.”

villageWhen the reformed Dangerous Drugs Act was finally passed by Parliament, WHGFA formed a company Rastafari In Inity and allied with the cannabis-activist US magazine High Times to present ROOTZFEST – a 3-day cultural event held in Negril – the famous Westmoreland tourist resort – at which the judging of Jamaica’s first Cannabis Cup took place. The WHGFA was bold enough to Petition the Government for non-enforcement of the Ganja Laws in Westmoreland so as to enable growers to freely produce the best ganja possible for the occasion, saying “…the issuance of a prospective declaration of non-enforcement of ganja laws in Westmoreland Parish would allow the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association to exemplify for all the parishes of Jamaica the responsible integration of cannabis culture into Jamaican society”.

WHGFA pointed out that Westmoreland has kept alive the cultivation of ganja despite harsh enforcement of unjust laws against it and claimed the honour of leading Jamaica into an open and legal ganja economy.Though the Government did not accept the proposal, nevertheless the Sacramental priveleges accorded to RASTA in the reformed law enabled the free use and sale of Ganja at the event – an unprecedented act in Jamaican legal and cultural history.

Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association (WHGFA) Leader Ras Iyah V congratulated Justice Minister Mark Golding in very positive terms for the reform of the Ganja laws, saying: “The WHGFA thanks the Justice Minister for his courage and staying true to his words. This is another step in the right direction as we keep the fire burning.”


Ras Iyah-V is very optimistic about Jamaica’s steps to turn Ganja into Green Gold and he praises pioneer Jamaican scientists, West and Lockhart.

Dr Lockhart and Dr Manley West in the late 70s, early 80s found out about herb and decided to do their research simply because they saw grass roots people using it. I remember Dr Manley West saying that when he went to Old Harbour to buy fish he couldn’t see the canoe coming in, but the other people could and when he realized that there were certain things that these people could see, but he couldn’t see and asked them why, a man took up a little bottle with some herb and some white rum and said this is what we use Doc. That motivated and stimulated Dr Lockhart and Dr Manley West to do their research and they came up with Canasol for glaucoma and Asmasol for asthma.

This shows us that we have the potential here to develop pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and other products, but how marketable are these products in the international market? It’s not that easy because there is the International Narcotic Convention and there is the International Narcotics Control Board. Now how do we go about it? Because that’s a big problem. That’s a big question. How do we develop and industry in a way that we can market our products internationally? I know that the US Government is using State Law as a guise to develop their cannabis industry and at the same time to fight against third world countries’ development. I don’t think the States could have been doing what they want if the Federal Government was not in league with it in some kind of legal way.

I think the Government of Jamaica has a responsibility to align themselves with other countries here in the Caribbean, in Latin America who are against this big stick that America has over our heads, that you can do what I say but not what I do. I think we have a duty and responsibility to align ourselves with these countries, whether from a regional block or from the point of view that we are thinking similar as countries, to make sure that we strengthen in such a way that we do have a say on the international political scene. Otherwise we will always have to succumb to these big sticks that America has over our head.”


FOR most of his 67 years, Ras Iyah-V has preached ganja’s medicinal and religious virtues and until last year, those who listened were largely from his Rastafarian faith. Thanks to his unceasing work, Ras Iyah-V and his WHGFA have the support of not only the Jamaican Government, but also two international advocates for ganja legalization.

One major supporter is US magazine HIGH TIMES that has been an advocate for world-wide legalization since it was founded in 1974 by American firebrand ganja advocate, Tom Forcade. Matt Stang, director of advertising and sponsorships at High Times, spoke about the monthly publication’s decision to introduce their landmark Cannabis Cup competition to Jamaica as part of the RASTAFARI ROOTZFEST event that WHGFA and the company they formed – Rastafari In Inity – held last November in Negril, the Jamaican resort famous for its laid-back approach to the Ganja culture of the Parish.

“We were approached last year to help amplify the voices of grassroots people and Rastafari who have borne the brunt of the persecution to keep an industry alive so they would benefit,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we were approached by many other individuals and groups but what stood out to us most, was the vision that WHGFA shared with us. They did not ask for money, they asked for a partnership.”


Prof. Charles Nesson & Ras Iyah-V


Another strong supporter is Charles Nesson, tenured Harvard Law Professor who admitted in 2002 to smoking joints – often before teaching classes at Harvard University. The story made national news.

Nesson sees social justice as the surest manifestation of the utopic human condition.

The idea that we have this behemoth of criminal prosecution directed toward consumers of a plant, an ordinary plant, an herb, is so preposterous that you confront academically the discontinuity between what makes sense and what we are made to accept as our surrounding reality,” he says.

Nesson’s influence has extended beyond the stuffy corridors of Ivy League academia. He practices what he teaches. In 1966, as a special assistant in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, Nesson brought about the first convictions ever leveled at Ku Klux Klan members before an all-white jury in Alabama for violence against black citizens. The case helped make race and gender-based jury selection in the state unconstitutional. Forty years later, he represented the founder of NORML and publisher of High Times as they challenged Massachusetts possession laws after being charged for sparking up at the Boston Freedom Rally. Both were found guilty and sentenced to a day in prison.

Nesson’s outspoken links with cannabis led him to offer his services as pro-bono counsel to Ras IyahV’s WHGFA, working to advance restorative justice in a country that has transitioned from slavery to independence and, as he says, “been taken to the cleaners by colonial rule.”

Deeply involved in the cannabis conversation on the island, he’s been on the front lines of recent drug reforms since April 2014. Last year, when the Jamaican government decriminalized ganja, Nesson stood beside Ras IyahV to celebrate the victory. Nesson believes, the current scene in the Caribbean serves as a case study in the cautious optimism that characterizes current cannabis reforms the world over.

Where medical, recreational and sacramental provisions have been added to the new cannabis laws in Jamaica, so too, says he, must commercial considerations be made. Responsible economics, Nesson says, can help serve as a means of turning the page on decades of cannabis oppression and prohibition.

I believe what is potentially starting in Jamaica has got to start small. If it’s run on rocket fuel at the beginning or in some way taken over by the intelligence of international capitalism, it’s just going to wipe out,” he says. “The Rastafari want profit in the sense of needing to make money in order to have the funds to do what they’re doing, but they want profit not to compromise principle. Principle is first, profit comes second.”


Ras Iyah-V is grateful for Nesson’s help and guidance in understanding the legal hoops through which Ganja reform must jump. It frees him to continue heralding the peaceful RASTA approach to legalisation. Speaking last week to Nesson’s Harvard Law class, Iyah-V repeated what he says is the Message of RASTA:

RASTA say ‘Peace and Love’. If we are to have Peace there must be Justice. If injustice continues, will there be Peace? No! So we must continue to fight peacefully for Justice in all ways, and especially for the justice of Human Rights – the human right to use this plant that was created by JAH for mankind, for the healing of the nations. Our Emperor Haile Selasse I was someone representing the conscience of mankind, the returned Messiah, the Upholder of equality and justice. His Majesty showed us that we as RASTA have a right to demand the right of everybody to decide their own destiny.”

This is the message Ras Iyah-V will bring to the United Nations on April 21.

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah

The Power of the Cross


lalibela4The Christian celebration of Easter is a time when the origins of RASTA as a Bible-based religion come under severe examination. Though RASTA beliefs are heavily founded in the Psalms, the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, many RASTA reject the Bible story, yet on the other hand claim Emperor Haile Selassie as a modern-day manifestation of Christ.

The contradiction is further compounded by the fact that following his visit to Jamaica 50 years ago, the Emperor made a significant gift to the RASTA nation by sending his personal priest Abba Mandefro to open the first branch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kingston and teach the prayers and liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Faith, and to baptize RASTA in the ancient Christian faith.

maskel3While some RASTA obeyed the Emperor’s wishes, few today are baptized members of the EOTC and the program of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Emperor’s visit does not include a memorial of this important gift from H.I.M.

The importance of Baptism in the Orthodox faith was underscored by Bob Marley’s baptism on his deathbed by Archbishop Yesehaq who reported in a 1984 interview I did with him in the Gleaner’s Sunday Magazine titled ‘Abuna Yesehaq Looks Back on 14 Years of Ministry in Jamaica‘ the following report about Bob Marley’s baptism:

“Bob was really a good brother, a child of God, regardless of how people looked at him. He had a desire to be baptized long ago, but there were people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different aspect of Rastafari. But he came to Church regularly. I remember once while I was conducting the Mass, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face…When he toured Los Angeles and New York and England, he preached the Orthodox faith, and many members in those cities came to the Church because of Bob. Many people think he was baptized because he knew he was dying, but that is not so…he did it when there was no longer any pressure on him, and when he was baptized, he hugged his family and wept, they all wept together for about half an hour.”   Today, 40 years after Bob’s passing, it may seem that Marley received the everlasting fame he holds around the world to the blessing of his EOTC baptism.

power of the crossA book “The Power Of The Cross: Maskel of Lalibela” by Alfredo Johnson seeks to explain the importance of Baptism in the Orthodox faith.  I share excerpts from it here.

” The name Haile Selassie given to Ras Tafari on his Coronation means the Power of the Trinity, and that Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Before Christ left this earth after his ministry, he gave his disciples a command to baptize the nations in the name of this Holy Trinity.

“The name Haile Selassie is not just a name written on a piece of paper meaning nothing. The name means The Power of the Holy Trinity.  Haile Selassie then became the Defender of the Faith to uphold the gospel of the Cross which was preached by the same embodiment of the Holy Trinity.  When one gets baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one becomes one with the living embodiment of Haile Selassie 1st. For this reason the name Haile Selassie MUST be praised.

maskel6“To the many who claim to be following Haile Selassie 1st, but refuse to be re-born again (St. John 3: 3-21) through baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, the name Haile Selassie 1st will only be blasphemed by you, because one cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven in the body of sinful flesh, nor stand in the presence of the consuming fire of Kidus Selassie because Eyesus Krystos has already destroyed that body/temple (St. John 2: 19-22) of sin/flesh and there is only but one baptism (Ephesians 4: 4-7) in the name of the Holy Trinity!

“After baptism each person is given a new name after his re-birth, this in essence means the person is changed from one level to another because the old man is done away with and the new man is born. The flesh of sin is destroyed and replaced with the new Christ.

“So one cannot have one foot inside claiming to know and serve Yahweh God, while having one foot outside, disobeying His call to perfection, because He requires righteousness and not unrighteousness. As His name means Power of the Holy Trinity, perfection is the ultimate attainment and one cannot come short of this.

selassie maskel“When Abba Yesehaq came to the West it was with the power and authority of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie 1st with the Maskel (Cross), sent as a Shepherd for the Rastafarians primarily to be re-born in the Orthodox faith of which Haile Selassie is the head. But to many they are still holding on to the flesh and as it was shown in the Book of Isaiah 6: 1-13, Yaweh of Host was never seen in the temple (Church) until the King Ussiah died, meaning the flesh was removed out of the way so ones and ones could see Haile Selassie 1st in spirit and in truth in His embodiment of the Holy Trinity.

“Haile Selassie 1st was the living embodiment of the Holy Trinity, Kidus Selassie. This name is Amharic as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Name which all was commanded to be baptized in to be in one with the Holy Trinity Kidus Selassie.  One could enter the congregation of Holy Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, in the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirit of the just men made perfect of Kidus Selassie (Hebrew 12: 21-24).  This Mystery of Yaweh God has now been revealing, and all are called to Baptism in the Holy Trinity.

lalibela3“There is a book called The Liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, English Translation of the Preparatory Service, 14 Anapahoras and Covenant Prayers.  Haile Selassie 1st set in order that these 14 ancient books be collected and printed at His own expense and produced from the ancient language, translated from Geez into English and printed by order of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I for use in the Church of which He is Head of: The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and in the Anaphoras which outline the power of the Holy Trinity.

“In these 14 books are outlined the right and true order of Christ’s Church and the Divine Srvice to the people of which no man should alter or deny.  The fourteen books gave a strict revelation of Holy Mary with all her symbolism, with the Holy Trinidy coming together as One embodiment with the Holy Communion for the people who are baptized with its importance.

“Therefore, to my brothers and sisters who know nothing about these fourteen Anaphoras Books of Divine Service, one should go in search and find it, because it was commanded to production by Haile Selassie I, the embodiment of the Holy Trinity, whose ways is Baptism in the Church, who also is the Defender of the Faith for all in the name of the Holy Trinity which the Books outline to all, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit which exist before birth and man, Kidus Selassie.

lalibela5“And if the uprisers were studying Yaweh’s words they would have seen that if they touch the rights of Haile Selassie 1st they would be playing with fire which they are not able to quench, and so the written words of Yaweh sayings which link the seven spirits of Yaweh came to the Church and gave His warning of He who opens and no man shut, and shut and no man open, and there is only One who holds such title and rights, Our LORD GOD and Saviour Yesus Kristos in his embodiment of Kidus Selassie Haile Selassie 1st.

“As the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he came and stood in the Church who John also behold walking in the midst of the seven lamps which He reveals to John and the Church, and received all His titles and Honors and gave a warning:

“And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, write these things: He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the Key of David. He who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See I have set before you an open door and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength and have kept My word and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:7).

maskel5“It is therefore because the Holy Trinity name is denied by many and blasphemed every day by those who allow the diabolical war of Satan to poison their mind against the Holy Trinity Haile Selassie 1st. Christ is coming again to His Church with His eyes as flame of fire to judge the wicked (Revelation 19: 11-16) in which Anaphoras it is also written in a chant to the Holy Trinity.

“Therefore to all Christians who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the name Haile Selassie 1st is present and always will be.  The name Haile Selassie 1st means the Power of the Holy Trinity, therefore He was there at the Annunciation, Baptism and Ascension, so how can one deny Haile Selassie 1st, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah? Glory and Honour are meet to the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit at all times, both now and ever and world without end. Amen.”

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” (John 3:16-17)


(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah



ganja1The greatest achievement of the present Jamaican Government has been the liberation of the Ganja laws and the opening up of opportunities for Jamaica to capitalize on the many opportunities available to benefit from the Green Gold for which Jamaica is famous. RASTA had been saying for decades that Ganja was for ‘the healing of the nation’. Now, at last the doors have been opened by an enlightened administration, and RASTA gives thanks to all.

The manner in which the revision of the Dangerous Drugs law was piloted by Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice through the minefields of Jamaica’s social, economic and religious groups – including RASTA – is to be commended. Jamaica has taken a pioneering step that treads carefully through the restrictions of the international treaties while providing previously unheard of freedoms for Jamaican ganja users and producers. The provision for sacramental use as a Constitutional human right of RASTA is unprecedented and opens the way for other users of the herb – nationally and internationally, also make claims for their very human right to use ganja as medication or recreation.

villageA very important conference was held during the recent Rastafari RootzFest/HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup in Negril, organized by the Ministries of Justice and Industry, Investment & Commerce. It was hosted by the Beckley Foundation – an international organization founded by the Countess of Weymss, Amanda Feilding in 1998 to provide a rigorous review of global drug policies and develop a scientific evidence base on which to build alternative policies. For the last 17 years the Beckley Foundation has brought together leading international experts to discuss the complex and taboo issues surrounding cannabis policy and to explore new regulatory models to protect health and reduce the disastrous collateral harms caused by prohibition.

beckley logoHaving built an excellent reputation for information it has shared via conferences, expert studies and publication of scientific papers, the Beckley Foundation was a natural choice to help Jamaica establish its cannabis industry, especially given the fact that founder Amanda Feilding maintains a home in Portland, Jamaica. The two-day conference onJamaica’s Regulated Cannabis Industry: First Steps’ heard leaders and high-level officials of the Jamaican Government, the Attorney General’s Office and the Drug Abuse Council, as well as medical marijuana scientists who all made presentations on the important steps necessary for development of the blossoming industry, including the legal and financial implications and guidelines.

The detailed information shared by them showed the intense care with which all aspects of developing the industry are being considered. I can only share excerpts of the main presentations, but a full publication of all speeches with photographs and slides will be published by the Beckley Foundation shortly.

Beckley Conference Day 1Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding explained the legal pathway and guidelines that Jamaica undertook to reach the final revision of the law while keeping it within international boundaries. Minister of Industry, Commerce & Investment Anthony Hylton gave a positive outlook on Jamaica’s opportunities. Dr. Kathy-Ann Brown, Deputy Director in the Attorney General’s Office, represented by explained the legal and financial restrictions within which the industry must operate to comply with international laws.

The Director of the Scientific Research Council, Dr. Winston Davidson, explained the caution with which Jamaica will test, approve and track the production of Jamaica’s medical marijuana plants. Professor Wayne McLaughlin of the University of the West Indies, explained the clinical and medical research the University has been engaged in. Dr. Andre Gordon, Chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, described the process of registration and licensing that would be undertaken by his inter-governmental committee.Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeil spoke of the benefits possible to the industry, while Diane Edwards, President of JAMPRO, described the cultural and wellness tourism opportunities presented by the ganja industry. Stephen Wedderburn, Chief Technical Director of the Ministry of Industry, gave support to the presentation by Minister Anthony Hylton.

iyahV1Representing the RASTA community, Westmoreland Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association Chairman Ras Iyah-V praised the Sacramental Rights given under the revised Dangerous Drugs law that had made the RootzFest a unique and historic event.

“We as grass roots people, we didn’t have any legal avenue. We had to smuggle, because we know the use of the herb and we knew that people wanted the plant, whether to use it medicinally or recreationally. So for the time being here in Jamaica – again I give thanks for the Amendment, because it enables I&I Rastafari to move more freer than we used to, and at the same time to look at the potential of the industry in terms of its support for grass-roots people.

“I have said on many occasions that I will neither stand, sit nor lie down and watch this industry be taken over by rich people or foreign investors. If we are to develop this industry, it MUST benefit Rastafari and it MUST benefit grass-roots people, because these are the people who have borne the brunt of the persecution. It’s we who when everyone was going left, right and center, I and I were the ones who kept going.

Rastafari.jpg“The big question – how do we develop an industry here in a way that we can market our products internationally. From my analysis of the situation, I know that the US Government is using State laws as a guise to develop their cannabis industry and at the same time to fight against Third World countries’ development. I don’t think the States could have been doing what they want if the Federal Government was not in league with it.

“I say, the Government of Jamaica has a responsibility to align themselves with other countries here in the Caribbean and Latin America – there are countries that are against this big stick that America has over everyone’s heads, that you can do what I say but not what I do. I think we have a duty and responsibility to align ourselves with these countries, because unity is strength, and as such – whether as a regional bloc or from the point of view that we are thinking similarly as countries – to make sure that we become strengthened in such a way that we have a say on the international political scene. Otherwise we will always have to succumb to this big stick that America has over our heads.”

iyahV3Endorsing Ras Iyah-V, Senator Golding Minister of Justice, explained fully the decision of the Jamaican Government to grant sacramental rights to the Rastafari community. Addressing the topic specifically, he said:

“The Rastafarian people have suffered tremendously over many, many years in this country,” he said, “by actions taken against them and many of those actions related to ganja, so that was a burning issue that required reform. We felt that it was clearly unconstitutional for the law to prohibit the use of a sacrament by the Rastafarian people because the Charter of Rights in our Constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.

“So that was one element of the reform. The Rastafarian community – for the first time their religion was acknowledged in a public statute in Jamaica and their right to possess ganja is now acknowledged in the law. There are provisions for the designation of religious spaces as areas where the prohibition or the restrictions on ganja use do not apply, there is provision for designation of lands for cultivation for sacramental purposes, and exempt events which are events primarily for the purpose of observing or celebrating the Rastafarian faith.

golding3“We are trying to approach this in a creative and responsible way. The law has tried to be holistic. I think our work in this area has been acknowledged around the world as being of significance and I just hope that we can get the balance that’s inherent in this exercise right. I am sure that errors will be made but on the whole I think it presents a tremendous opportunity for Jamaica and the world to arrive at a new and more humane way of regarding this plant, ganja.”

Amanda Feilding2In her presentation, Conference host Amanda Feilding congratulated Jamaica for the pioneering step it has taken towards ganja legalization.

“It is wonderful,” she said “that Jamaica has now not only decriminalised cannabis, eliminating previous convictions for possession, but has also fully acknowledged the religious rights of the Rastafarians, thus becoming the first state to properly recognise the religious use of cannabis.

“On the global scene I think we have finally reached a ‘tipping point’. The ‘intellectual’ battle against the ‘War on Drugs’ has, for the most part, been won. Most intelligent people realize that it is impossible to eradicate a market through prohibition. Where there is a demand, there will always be a way to fill it. However, that is merely the ‘intellectual’ battle, the ‘battle on the ground’ has only just begun, and that is where Jamaica is now leading the way. There is no doubt that the ‘War on Drugs’ approach to the control of psychoactive substances has been a disaster, with catastrophic consequences at every level. I cannot think of another civil decision that has caused so much global suffering.

“Prohibition of psychoactive substances has created a vast criminal market, run by individuals, often acting with a ruthlessness which shakes the fabric of civilised society. It would have been much better if these substances had remained as an integral part of the social fabric, controlled by social pressure, with the purpose of minimising harms and optimising benefits.”

sela4Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said that developments in the American states such as Colorado “… presented a window of opportunity to do some of the things that we wanted to do for many years and had not really felt that we could, because of the adverse international impact or reaction that we would have suffered.” He spoke of the law’s changes making ganja smoking a ticketable offense without prosecution, the expunging of records for ganja convictions for small personal amounts, and the freedom to grow 5 plants for personal use.

He also repeated his commitment to the existing ganja farming industry. “The challenge for Jamaica in developing a regulated cannabis industry is how to reconcile two objectives which are not necessarily fully aligned — the first objective is the policy of the Government to ensure that the regulated lawful industry that would emerge is to be an inclusive industry that allows small farmers, rural communities, persons who have been growing ganja for years and have suffered the brunt of that — because it’s been an illegal activity and there have been significant efforts by the state to eliminate that – those persons if they want to participate can do so. That’s the fundamental as an objective.

rootzfestExplaining that Jamaica has been adventurous in framing its Ganja legislation, Senator Golding said that the three Conventions that make up the international drug treaty system, the UN Single Convention of 1961 and two other subsequent conventions, requires the Cannabis Licensing Authority in designing the regulatory system to do so in a way that is compliant with Jamaica’s international obligations.

“I do think that in the design of the framework for Jamaica,” he said, “we need to push the envelope somewhat, in order to ensure that the principal objective of inclusion is not sacrificed on the alter of rigid and strict interpretation of the treaties. The United States itself has propounded that the treaties allow flexibility and I think Jamaica accepts the approach of flexibility in interpreting those treaties and so I will be expecting that the regulations will be designed in a way that does enable small farmers who want to come on board to do so.”

For RASTA, the Beckley Conference was a fitting partner event, providing a scientific, intellectual and academic foundation to underscore the physical manifestation of the revised Jamaican drug laws that was taking place a short distance away on the beautiful Negril beach. The speeches provided a full explanation of all aspects comprising the structure and development of the Jamaican ganja industry, establishing a good framework for unity between the Jamaican farms, businesses and scientific laboratories necessary for success. RASTA must and will keep an eye on all developments.


(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah