Tue | Jan 23, 2018

More Support For Marijuana Than Music

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Peter Tosh

The cover art for Peter Tosh's 1976 Legalise It album, with the Stepping Razor smoking a chalice in a marijuana field, was a strong statement of rebellion. Now, the way things are shaping up with the moves to commercialise marijuana in Jamaica, it may just turn out to be the picturesque epitome of a sick joke on the social class which has most strongly advocated for and sustained the production of marijuana and music in this country.

It is the poor people, the have-nots, who have carved out an existence and occasionally tenuous prosperity in marginal physical and social spaces of the society out of weed and popular music, intertwining both to the extent that they have become as natural a combination as rice and peas, bun and cheese, sorrel and Christmas, hot gal and bunning man.

And it is the poor people who have been chucked in prison, brutalised by the State and done extensive informal research on the benefits of marijuana, who will benefit the least from its commercial exploitation. This is not least so for Rastafari, whose use of marijuana as a sacrament has attracted the unwelcome attention of lawmen, especially in the early 1960s when there was an ideological conflict over Jamaican identity - Rastafari with Africa on one hand, and the State pursuing a model built of British colonialism on the other.

With all the batons, jail time, bullets and disparagement for using marijuana which has been generally directed at the lower socio-economic class and what is shaping up to be domination of the cannabis industry by those who did not go through the fire for ganja, a Jamaican aphorism and a line from deejay Louie Culture come to mind. The former is "fatten fowl fi mongoose" - as in to make a major investment in time and effort only for someone else to reap the benefits. The latter is Louie Culture's part in the all-star Anything for You remix. Deejaying about building a relationship with a woman, he says, "Me no fool fi go buil' up mi residence / An a nex' man live een like a president / All a teach private lesson to me student / Gangalee overthrow dem deh govament."




The poor has literally planted the foundation of the cannabis industry and it is those higher on the socio-economic ladder who will live in the palaces it will most likely spawn. The high-level official high interest in cannabis as a high legal crop (not that many were not involved previously. At a Calabash International Literary Festival which I attended, the late Perry Henzell spoke about upper-class families in Portland all being involved in the marijuana trade at one point, and at the recent Rebel Salute's Herb Curb Symposium, Mutabaruka commented that there are those who own much now, such as planes, getting their start in ganja) is in stark contrast to the attitude towards Jamaican popular music.

And it goes back to a matter of land, of legal marijuana tying neatly into Jamaica's colonial foundation where land is power. For Jamaican popular music is intellectual property, the gift of creating, packaging and presenting it rarely bestowed on the upper classes or, if so naturally inclined, rarely persistently pursued. It is property for the traditionally landless of the society, which has had worldwide reach without much substantial state support or private investment from the upper class. This ownership and its resultant income disturbs the sense of an innate, natural hierarchy in a plantation society, where those who have always been on top through the ownership of the land and that which springs from it cannot comprehend that they are not captains of the music industry.

With ganja, though, those with lots of land will be able to dig their hands deep into their pockets, look out at acres of green, clear their throats and sonorously intone "looks like we are going to have a good crop this year". They will be able to hand out awards for best farmer and whatever by-product, they will be able to claim innovation and contributing to the national good.

And the little man will hitch on a couple boxes of weed at whatever price is dispensed by those in control. Sounds a bit like the coffee industry, come to think of it.

Jamaican popular music has done immeasurable brand-building for marijuana, not only in recordings (we could play weed songs for days without a repeat), but through personal representation, such as the Legalise It album cover and instances which Tony Rebel pointed out of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), once having up a picture of Bob Marley lighting a spliff in its offices. I fear that it will all come close to naught for those who have made the sacrifice.

Marijuana production can and will be controlled to channel the proceeds and power towards those who have long benefited from a colonial society structure. Music will not get the same support, because it makes the wrong people, (in the estimation of the elite), those who are too dark in skin tone and level of schooling, potentially wealthy.