Marijuana matters at Rebel Salute’s Herb Curb
A sign by the Herb Kerb at Rebel Salute 2016, held last Friday and Saturday, designated a smoking lounge and borrowed a line from Bob Marley's Easy Skanking, to advise, "excuse me while I light my spliff".
But while there was a noticeable amount of smoking at that seaside section of Grizzly's Plantation Cove in Priory, St Ann, the Herb Kerb, where some exhibitors displayed uses for marijuana, went beyond (but did not exclude) burning it. The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) also had a booth, a parcel of the two-ounce limit and information on the legal framework as part of its set-up. Indeed, recreational use was a small part of the discussion during the symposium, in which a number of speakers spoke on different aspects of marijuana.
Unfortunately, the discussion got going much later than the intended early-afternoon start with the sun going down on the forum. The concert started while the symposium was still on, resulting in a conflict of music and talking. Also, Orville Silvera of the Ganja Future Growers Association, did not get a chance to speak.
An animated poet, Ras Takura, performed Food War (which speaks extensively about farming) at the outset, setting the stage for an exploration of issues around an agricultural product, hosted by poet Steppa. And First Man, of the Rastafari Indigenous Village, spoke about the struggles of a community which has long practised the use of marijuana as a sacrament in worship - and paid a heavy price. "Through all the big lick, all a de brutality, we hol' on to dis herb," First Man said.
Now that there has been some relaxation of the laws against marijuana, First Man expressed some reservation among Rastafarians. "This amendment to the law is still under suspicion by the community, as to where this thing is going," he said. "The law says a lot and it says nothing."
Referring to marijuana as a "beautiful plant", First Man reflected that Rastafarians has always used it spiritually and economically, which Ras Perty of House of Dread reiterated. "When we say marijuana is a sacrament, it is our right and choice. It is our cultural right to do so," Ras Perty said.
"There are lots of negative stigmatisations about herb. We can prove otherwise," he said. "I still see that there is a very large unawareness of who we are and what our sacrament is to us." He reflected briefly on the repression of Rastafarians, especially in the early 1960s, and said, "We won't stop. We won't forget. And we will never make you forget what was done to us for our own rights."
Poet and broadcaster Mutabaruka, who is a longstanding Rebel Salute MC, spoke briefly about the irony of himself and Rebel Salute founder Tony Rebel not smoking marijuana, but still "a two time me go a jail fe ganja". He focused on the commercial use of hemp, noting that many imported hemp products are available in Jamaica, but questioning the regulations about it being grown in Jamaica. Referring to the pace of legislative changes, Mutabaruka said ganja does not have to be legalised for a hemp industry to exist.
Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding addressed those concerns, explaining that although hemp is not illegal in Jamaica since last April, a licence is required for hemp production in commercial quantities. Part of this is where the hemp will be planted, as there is a risk of cross-pollination with other strains of marijuana. The regulation therefore exists to protect the rest of the marijuana population.
Blaine Dowdie, head of International Development at Tweed, spoke about restrictions on international marijuana paraphernalia by the United Nations and pharmaceutical companies over the last half-century, as well as this current work with persons in Jamaica to find out what the real opportunities are, considering the regulations.
"Jamaica has everything it needs here," Dowdie said, indicating the worldwide branding association through persons like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. "It just needs to believe in itself. Jamaica is standing within range of a great opportunity," he said.
Medicanja Limited's Dominic McDowell looked at marijuana from the perspective of the medicinal product which can be made from it, reminding the participants of Canasol and Asthmasol, the first medicinal ganja products, which did not get off the ground because of regulatory restrictions. He said GW Pharmaceuticals is the largest company of that type in the world and "that could have been Jamaica".
Having missed out on the opportunity then, another one has come along. "The future lies not with raw weed, but the products we can make," he said. McDowell explained that "each human being has receptors for ganja. Ganja is the lock and key to open these receptors".
Linda Jackson, a nurse, gave her history of ganja medication after a childhood mishap; she is now dispensing it to others. Dr Ilan Nachim, co-founder of the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic in Toronto, Canada, also spoke about the human body's receptors to marijuana. One type, CP1, is not in the brain stem, which controls the respiratory function, so consumption will not affect the respiratory system. He briefly explained the composition of marijuana and gave a synopsis of the conditions it can treat, including pain, seizures (especially in children) and anxiety.
Courtney Betty of Timeless Classic reinforced the urgency on the marijuana matter, saying "if we do not get our act together, we will lose this industry. We will lose again".