Sat | Apr 4, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Banks not taking risks with ganja money

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:29 AM

Rasta, reggae and ganja! That’s the dominant trinity of Jamaican popular culture. Sceptics will say it’s an unholy trinity. All three have been demonised in this country. The Jamaican elite have publicly dismissed and dissed Rasta, reggae and ganja as evidence of the fundamentally deviant nature of the black majority. Undercover, many of them have long smoked, cultivated and exported ganja. And made a lot of money along the way.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry asks a provocative question in his 1978 song, Free Up The Weed:“Some plant coffee, some plant tea/So why can’t I and I plant collie?”

In another verse, ‘Scratch’ adds:“Some export coffee, some export tea/So why can’t I and I export collie?”

I’m sure those are rhetorical questions.

‘Scratch’ very well knows the answer. Is so Babylon set di ting. Only certain people should benefit from the criminalisation of ganja. And they are the real criminals in high places. Now that things are changing and the weed is being freed, it seems as if it’s only a certain class of people who are going to benefit.


‘Scratch’ knew that earnings from the ganja business could improve the conditions of poor people in Jamaica. So he challenged lawmakers to decriminalise the herb:

“Free up the weed let the children

eat right now

Too much cold supper

If you stray from the root

You will never know the truth

right now

Cau the war can’t solve no

problem, love is the emblem

Instead of hate and malice, we

should be sipping chalice

And giving praises to His Most

High Jah Jah Rastafari”

Like ‘Scratch’, Peter Tosh highlighted the hypocrisy of Jamaican society in his brilliant song Legalise It. He lists a wide range of Jamaicans who use ganja:

“Singers smoke it

And players of instruments too

Legalise it, yeah, yeah

That’s the best thing you can do

Doctors smoke it

Nurses smoke it

Judges smoke it

Even the lawyers too.”

Tosh offered to advertise ganja once it was legalised. He didn’t live to see the partial decriminalisation of ganja in Jamaica. But even in death, Tosh continues to chant down oppressive legislation through the lasting legacy of his high-grade lyrics.

His song Buk In Hamm Palace is a rebuke to politicians who refuse to break constitutional ties with Britain. The queen of England is still our head of state. Our ‘Dangerous Drugs Act’ originated in the UK. So Tosh sends out this challenge:

“Light up your spliff

Light up your chalice

Make we burn it in a Buk In

Hamm Palace.”


Rastafari have suffered a hell of a lot in this country. We must never forget the 1963 Coral Gardens uprising and the truly demonic command issued by Sir Alexander Bustamante, national hero and first prime minister of independent Jamaica: “Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive”. Busta conceived Rasta as outlaws in a Hollywood western who had to be exterminated by any means necessary.

But Rasta survived that purge as they did the earlier destruction of their camp at Pinnacle, where ganja was freely cultivated. Rastafari refused to bow down to Babylon.

They asserted their right to partake of the holy herb given by Jah for the healing of the nation. Sacramental use of ganja has long been an act of resistance against ‘downpression’.

In Smoke Marijuana, Sizzla militantly chants:

“Music and more music we burn

the pagan

No if, no buts no arguments

Marijuana is my only sacrament.”

Unlike Sizzla, Bob Marley seems to apologise for smoking ganja in the opening line of Easy Skanking, the first track on the 1978 Kaya album. He rather politely sings:“Excuse me while I light my spliff!”

We know why. Forty years ago, nice and decent people would have been offended by the whiff of herb. But Marley’s “excuse me” seems quite insincere. He goes on to assert,“Got to have Kaya now”. And nothing and no one is going to stop his iditation.

Things and times have changed to some degree. Soon there will be no need to make excuses for consuming ganja in all its forms. But the continuing criminalisation of the holy herb by the US federal government is making it difficult for the income earned from legitimate ganja businesses to get into banks.

The US Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified ganja as a dangerous Schedule I drug, with no standard of safety or accepted medical use. It could, allegedly, be easily abused. Banks that handle proceeds of ganja sales can be charged with money laundering. Ganja businesses are operating on a cash-only basis, increasing the risk of exposure to criminal attack.

Furthermore, the international banking system is tied to US financial institutions, so it’s not easy to get around federal regulations. The Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce were the first to start doing business with ganja companies. Like ‘Scratch’, these banks know that a lot of money can be made from freeing the weed. And they are making no apologies to US regulators.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and