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Order of Merit or Marijuana (OM)?

Published:Sunday | October 27, 2013 | 12:00 AM

National honourees put personal ganja use into album art

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Last week Ras Puddler, a farmer from Westmoreland, declared that he was a marijuana farmer - and there was a newspaper photograph of him supporting his product at the Peter Tosh birthday celebration close to the late singer's former Belmont home.

Ras Puddler's home was raided by the police in short order and the resulting commentary occupied a slice of national attention for the rest of the week.

However, while Ras Puddler felt the weight of the law for his open support of marijuana, two of the singer/songwriters upon whom the Jamaican Government has bestowed the Order of Merit (OM) have not only openly supported ganja in their lyrics and interviews, but have album art to boot.

Ironically, Jamaica's national honours are officially bestowed on National Heroes Day - the same day the interview which landed Ras Puddler in trouble with the law was conducted.

Of the two, Tosh's advocacy of marijuana is the more voluble and better known. After splitting from The Wailers, he made his solo-album debut in 1976 with Legalize It. The cover art was a picture of Tosh in a marijuana field, smoking a pipe, and the title track got pride of place as the first of nine songs on the set.

The lyrics of the song are, in part:

Legalise it,

Don't criticise it

Legalise it,

And I will advertise it.

After listing a number of the names by which marijuana is called, the second verse identifies a number of persons who smoke marijuana, including singers, musicians, nurses, lawyers and judges. Then, in the third verse, he names a number of ailments for which he claims marijuana can be used as treatment - flu, asthma and tuberculosis included.

At the One Love Peace Concert, held at the National Stadium in Kingston, Tosh famously - or infamously - spoke about marijuana.

Among the more striking moments of the seven-minute speech which came before doing Legalize It was when Tosh said:

"People suffering from malnutrition, and them thing there going round, we can't afford to have them thing. We have whole heap a land out there to plant herb, sell to dem, sell to the pirate them, because if them did have the herb inna fi dem country we coulden get none. Well, I an I bless wid dis resource here. And don't think this is no joke business, or else likkle more oonu go out deh and police bruck oonu Rasta Castle same way, fi a likkle draw a herb."

Three years before Legalize It, Tosh was involved as a member of The Wailers (along with original members Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer) in the breakthrough album Catch a Fire'.

The first album cover was a lighter, the top of which opened to show the actual recording, but the more generally known cover art is of Bob Marley smoking a spliff while looking directly at the camera.

Ironically, none of the nine tracks on Catch a Fire focus directly on marijuana. However, the 1978 Kaya album's cover art is a picture of a smiling Marley looking to his right.

The title song on the album is a celebration of smoking marijuana ('I feel so high, I even touch the sky/Above the falling rain').

If the meaning of Kaya could have been missed, there was no mistaking Marley's subject matter in Easy Skanking, also on the Kaya album, when he sings "excuse me while I light my spliff/oh God I got to take a lift".