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.

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(c) Barbara Makeda Blake-Hannah

ALL PHOTOS: (c) Fern Nesson

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WIPE THE RECORDS!


thirt logo 3Two weeks ago some concerned friends came together to draft a petition to the Prime Minister stating the terms under which we would like to see ganja legalized. Calling ourselves the JAMAICAN PEOPLE’S CANNABIS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL, we began our Petition with a demand that government WIPE THE RECORDS of all persons convicted for personal use of ganja, the Petition included proposals for licensing of 4 categories of ganja producers and the setting up of a Ganja Council headed by Certified Accountants to handle the establishment of ganja businesses and their taxation, leaving producers free to sell their products where legal in Jamaica or abroad.

Following this, the Government-led ‘Ganja Future Growers and Producers’ organization issued invitations to a “Jamaica Cannabis Conference” under the theme: ‘Wake Up Jamaica… Our Opportunities Are Slipping Away” sponsored by the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Task Force and the University of the West Indies.”

ganjaWHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?      What is really holding things up and preventing decriminalization? The matter has already been brought to Parliament by MP Raymond Price; Science and Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell is the senior PNP politician in charge, and the Minister of Justice Mark Golding is also very actively involved in all the conferences held so far — though notably absent is the Minister of Agriculture, which is surprising as tegalization concerns FARMERS. Even more surprising is that ganja legalization is headquartered at the UWI – hardly a place that has devoted attention to ganja issues, ganja farmers or experts on growing varied strains of ganja.

The JPCDC is looking closely at government’s proposals for development of a ganja industry, especially as the initiative is addressed to FUTURE farmers, not necessarily existing growers. We note also the heavy emphasis on presentations dealing with production of non-THC ganja and hemp, which are not illegal. I am not the only person wondering if decriminalization will only provide opportunities for Jamaican white-collar businessmen to partner profitably with international organizations for production of medical marijuana, as several Jamaican businessmen have announced hemp-related, non-THC products ready for production and sale to international partners.

ganja1RASTA RECOMMENDATIONS       We would love to hear that new strains of Sensimilia have been developed to replace that famous strain that was wiped out in the 70s when Jamaica enthusiastically waged the US ‘war against drugs’ with helicopters and spraying across the island. And we are glad to see that on  the RASTA side, there is strong representation.  The final document contains presentations by the Westmoreland Ganja Farmers Association, the Rastafari Youth Initiative Council and the Rastafari Millenium Council has submitted a good, strong document expressing in detail the rights and benefits that RASTA should receive under decriminalization and/or legalization. In all this, we all want to know and approve details of who will run the island’s ganja business, and how.

The conference title “Wake Up Jamaica – Our opportunities are slipping away” was first voiced by eminent Harvard Professor Charles Nesson, whose longstanding connection with Jamaica, as well as his longstanding advocacy for ganja legalization in his home country USA, has inspired him to personally finance several trips to Jamaica to participate in and encourage Jamaica’s legalization campaign. While the JPCDC agrees with Prof. Nesson that Jamaica must act swiftly in the face of efforts by several other nations, we feel Jamaica still has the advantage of its world-famous reputation for producing the world’s best ganja, as well as being a world-famous vacation destination, both of which will undoubtedly be our greatest advantages.

 NOT TOO LATE     ganja2We may be late, but we are definitely still in the running. Now let’s wait and see what the Government does as a result of this conference. In the meantime, the JPCDC can be happy that the Declaration issued by the conference has included the JPCDC’s primary demand to WIPE THE RECORDS. This is an achievement after only two weeks of activism and we thank all the 250 persons who signed the Petition, a wide cross section of Jamaicans at home and abroad, as well as several international supporters — especially media. Not all our recommendations were accepted, so we will continue to press for them, especially the  setting up of a Cannabis Council staffed by Certified Accountants to establish ganja farmers’ business and supervise the payment of taxes to government.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE JAMAICAN’S PEOPLE’S CANNABIS DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL.

marijuana-field

FULL LEGALIZATION- Legalization now for medical, recreational, sacramental use, including the purchase.

APPROVE and LICENSE MARIJUANA PROCESSORS- “Marijuana processor” is a person, or persons, licensed to process marijuana into useable marijuana and marijuana-infused products. It would also license the processor to package, label and sell product at wholesale to marijuana retailers.

APPROVE and LICENSE MARIJUANA PRODUCERS- “Marijuana producer” is a person, or persons, licensed to produce and sell marijuana at wholesale to marijuana processors and other marijuana producers

APPROVE and LICENSE MARIJUANA RETAILERS- “Marijuana retailer” is a person, or persons, licensed to sell useable marijuana and marijuana-infused products in a retail outlet, including sales of a pound or less by street vendors.

APPROVE and LICENSE HOSPITALS, PHARMACIES, and their PHYSICIANS to administer or dispense useable marijuana for the intended use in diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in individuals or animals.

APPROVE the deposit of Marijuana profits at local banks.

APPROVE a NON GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY- The Agency will consist of 14 Certified Public Accountants to serve as the People’s representatives, with one representative elected from each parish, by their parish.  Elected representatives are limited to serving five (5) terms, each term consisting of four (4) years. Three members shall hold senior positions, and all shall be elected by the Board itself. All License fees to be established and voted on by the Cannabis Board.

These are our recommendations as plain, ordinary Jamaicans, not ganja farmers, but people who have always advocated GANJA FOR THE HEALING OF THE JAMAICAN NATION!

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