Where’s the ganja at Global Reggae Conference?

28 Feb


During my afternoon at UWI, I met this man, Lenny, who was selling his jewelery to Global Reggae Conference-goers. I asked about the T-shirt he was wearing, which advertised a website, www.caribbeanmandate.com, about the campaign to legalize ganja in Jamaica. It didn’t occur to me until talking with Lenny that, in a week’s worth of panel discussions and academic papers on myriad aspects of Jamaican music — from gender and sexuality in dancehall to religious transformations through reggae — the absence of any conversation of marijuana and its role in reggae music is startling. Please correct me if I am wrong, if I have overlooked a panel that focused on ganja. If I have not, I ask: Is marijuana still a taboo subject, even in an academic setting where reggae music is the focus? Can one adequately discuss all aspects of reggae music without a discussion of the role ganja has played in the creation and content of the music?


8 Responses to “Where’s the ganja at Global Reggae Conference?”

  1. Jeannie February 29, 2008 at 9:58 pm #

    There was one mention of the “erba cattiva” in a very long, but eloquent response to the Wednesday night Plenary presentation by Klive Walker and Roger Steffans. The final comment of the night was from a gentleman that runs a studio in Kingston who mentioned just that. Why is no one talking about the fact that reggae has been built on ganja money and the government must legalize it and be done already. It was a great moment as so much disent could be heard when he “went there”. Some people in the audience cheered him on while others gasped. It was a precious moment.
    Besides that …

  2. Mad Bair February 29, 2008 at 10:43 pm #


    Thanks for bringing that to our attention. It shall be interesting to see what the Jamaican gov’s response will be to that question now that the ball is in their hands (see: http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20080229/lead/lead5.html).

  3. Jeannie March 1, 2008 at 4:01 pm #

    As the ball may seem in Jamaica’s court, I remember reading that the US/World Bank has strongly suggested to that legalization could be a problem. I remember that the US contention was that it had something to do with counter productivity in the US so-called war on drug. There has also been issues about water rights and such from the past that would suggest to me legalization is part of a bigger picture, that is related to debt and US pressures.
    It would be however, incredible if it were legalized, imagine how much would change (and still stay the same).
    Here is one such article:

  4. Jillian March 2, 2008 at 12:26 am #

    I also attended the reggae conference with Madeleine and picked up a book at UWI, Caribbean Drugs: From Criminalization to Harm Reduction by Klein, Day and Harriott. According to this book, the U.S. requires all trading partners to become “certified” by the U.S. president as cooperative in fighting drug production and trafficking. The consequences of non-compliance are that countries lose privileges to trade with the U.S. and access aid packages and funds from international institutions. This is how the U.S. managed to enforce its drug policies on the rest of the world in the same imperialistic fashion as many other policies have been enforced; no doubt this issue will rear its head as Jamaica explores the legalization issue.
    I have always thought that Jamaica has an interesting case with the ganja issue for many reasons; first as a cash crop the potential for export (assuming it were legalized in Jamaica and had legal markets abroad, such as the medical market in California) could provide economic stimulation, although no doubt it is already doing that despite illegality. Second, if ganja were legal in Jamaica, it could have some interesting implications for tourism as well– while tourists seem to have no trouble procuring it despite its illegality, I wonder what kind of markets would open if it were officially legalized, per an Amsterdam type model?
    Lenny’s point about ganja being left out of the conference entirely was a good one, and the reaction of people when it was brought up is also telling. But this points to a fundamental split that often develops between academia and reality, as well as society’s denial about the influence of “drugs” in society. Given the fact that so much of reggae music explicitly promotes ganja as ritual, as spiritual medicine, as the “healing of the nation” in the words of Richie Spice, it’s a shame that not even one panel could explore it as a fundamental part of reggae music culture.

  5. Jeannie March 2, 2008 at 5:47 pm #

    So i guess it’s safe to say…legalization won’t happen. Jillian you point out some great ideas.
    A panel dealing with the issue would have been excellent…perhaps we should write a paper ! I wish this were an annual conference, there is so much potential for growth. I have even started to ask at the New School University where I am how difficult it would be to organize a conference (even if I feel that it really should be in Jamaica…NYC, Miami or London would also be interesting venues).
    Oh well it was great to have some sort of after thought with other attendees. I felt like so much need to still be discussed. It was truly a great starting point.

  6. Jillian March 10, 2008 at 5:03 pm #

    Hi Jeannie–I would love to write a paper about the ganja/drug policy issue sometime! And I think another conference, even an annual conference devoted to these topics would be great. Reggae is such a huge and global phenomenon, it definitely warrants more of this type of work.

  7. L. Moyston May 12, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    The issue of ganja goes beyond Reggae music. It was the Evangelical Group in Jamaica 1913 that wrote and submitted the Ganja 1913 Law to the Legislative council.This issue is closely associated with a trend to suppress matters concering black lower class Jamaica culture. The Ganja Law of 1913 emerged out of fear by the minority whites that the smoking of ganja by lower class blacks would result in mass uprising.

    In March 1934 after Leonard P. Howell, founder of the Rastafari Movement was tried for sedition and sent to prison, ganja became a massive public issue with major association to the early Rastafari Movement.

    It is important to note that in 1938 when the black majority of Jamaica was on the path to break the stranglehold of colonialism ganja became a major public issue; in the mid-1950’s when the conservative Bustamante government was on its anti-communist and anti-black radical spree, ganja again became prominent once more as a major factor associated with the “disorders”.
    It was the same trend in the Black Power era of the 1960’s.

    It was during the 1970’s, under the leadership of Michael Manley that for the first time there was a progressive attitude towards ganja and black lower class Jamaicans.

    Also important to note is the influence of the American anti-marijuana campaigns and how those campaigns influence the “politics” of ganja in Jamaica. Most importantly is the role of successive police adminsitations from the 1930’s thru the 1940’s in the many amendments of the Ganja Law of 1913.

    Very soon you will have the pleasure to read “The Ganja Chronicles: a history of police and suppression of black lower class Jamaicans”.

  8. Adah Wehner January 7, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    You made some Good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree.

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