Weed Ed | Preserving ganja’s sacredness amid mass commercialisation
In 10 years, the global marijuana culture will hardly resemble anything persons grew up knowing.
By 2028 most countries would have decriminalised or legalised the plant. Ganja will be a widespread commodity, with its byproducts dominating the food, health and beauty industries.
The farcical prohibition period would have become a fading memory with each year as global corporate entities capture the imagination of the public with slick marketing campaigns.
The faces and hues associated with the plant will move from people of African descent to Europeans, but in a much different role of charting the growth of industries.
Throughout history, ganja’s utilitarian roles were only superseded by its entheogenic purpose.
The Hindu saints of India, the Chinese Taoists and Rastafari in Jamaica have all kept the spiritual aura of the plant alive through their beliefs and rituals.
But ganja is now facing one of the biggest threats to traditions: capitalism.
Ganja’s slow reacceptance into society via legalisation has been closely followed by an influx of big businesses. Investment firms are negotiating multimillion dollar deals weekly; the five largest cannabis companies have already established a global presence; and market segmentation is becoming more defined.
These corporate strategies being employed are all geared towards dominating market share of a global ganja industry projected to be worth around US$57 billion by 2025.
Amid the deluge of investments and brand innovation taking place, lies the most important purpose of the plant that transcends commercialism, according to Ras Iyah V, a Nyabinghi elder, businessman and ganja advocate.
“The spiritual aspect of the plant is most important and that is what people throughout time have been drawn to,” said Iyah V.
“Most cultures were built around spiritual beliefs and ganja was what they used to connect with their inner being, their god.”
Iyah V said Rastafari’s reverence for the plant includes the practise of permaculture which doesn’t require the use of synthetic chemicals. Many indigenous farmers are also known to sing and speak to their plants, which they believe create harmony and synergy in sync with universal principles.
Today’s large cannabis producers are constructing mega greenhouses in excess of 100,000 square feet with fully automated systems that manage the environment. These highly controlled environments are aided by artificial lights with the ability to stress the plant so it produces higher THC contents.
“Man can try as much as he wants, he can’t replicate nature. The herb at foreign, I don’t get that meditation from it,” declared Iyah V.
“We are used to growing herb on the strength of the soil and that’s what make our strains unique. In some countries they’re relying on synthetic nutrients and not the soil.”
Citing the work of Ennis Edmonds in his book, Rastafari: From Outcasts to Culture Bearers, online resource, caribbeanreligionuvm.wordpress.com, notes that, “One of the central beliefs revolving around the use of ganja is the idea that the entire universe is organically related and that the key to health, both physical and social, is to live in accordance with organic principles’ (Edmonds p. 60).
It is important to recognise here that the use of ganja is not recreational, but instead considered one of the most natural forms of healing, thus fitting into Rasta ideals of Ital living. Smoking ganja, or consuming it in any way for that matter, is considered holy and natural only when used in accordance with the ideals of natural living.
CAPITALISM AND CULTURE
In a recently published paper Michael Matheson Miller, research fellow and Director of Action Media at the Action Institute in Michigan, USA, explored the impact of capitalism on cultural norms.
He noted that, “Competitive global market economies undoubtedly transform traditional cultures. One of the main ways the market does this is through innovation. As new technologies, industries, and goods and services emerge, they make older ones obsolete; old industries are shut down and new ones emerge.”
Innovation in the ganja industry is taking place at breakneck pace. From consumer goods, to medical applications, to service industries, ganja’s soiled farm clothes have been traded for suits and boardrooms, with an increasing narrative on ‘profit margins’.
On the flip side, however, Miller also posits that “because we associate global capitalism with modernisation we assume it only has negative effects on traditional culture. Yet there are cases when the opening of markets has actually enhanced local cultural production.”
One particular member of the Rastafari community has found a way to keep tradition alive and also monetise the opportunity. Kevin Campbell is the curator of #steamteamja, a platform he uses to promote the consumption of ganja through steaming instead of smoking it. The practise includes using natural elements such as bamboo, coconut and clay to construct a steam chalice through which ganja’s active compounds are extracted as heat passes through it. Coconut charcoal, one of the purest forms of charcoal, creates the fire.
This mode of consumption is said to be particularly effective in providing clarity and balance to the user because of the yogic breathing involved to use the chalice.
“Steaming has been around since the 50s and 60s through the Nyabinghi elders and it has been revived through some of our musicians,” said Campbell.
He said the four essential elements of earth, air, fire and water are represented in the practise of steaming.
“These four elements come together within one vessel to create the steaming experience, helping build harmony between the mind, body and soul.”
Campbell also offers tours around the island to visitors looking for an authentic immersion into the Rastafarian lifestyle.
“The whole thing is a spiritual experience based on Rastafari culture. Visitors to the island see how we live, see we’re healthy, and appreciate the example we set.”
In North American markets where ganja is legal, there has been an increase in yoga instructors incorporating marijuana use in their sessions as a way to help “ground and centre” people in a fast-paced, winner-takes-all environment.
Spiritual teachers of varying ideologies concur that ganja’s entheogenic role
is a hyper-intelligent form of communication by the plant and that the user must be prepared to receive the message, lest it be misinterpreted.