In Colorado, they legalized it for the tax revenue.
In Jamaica, it’s a matter of faith.
After months of discussion, the island nation’s parliament is expected to vote this fall on a proposal to allow the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana.
It would make possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use a “ticketable infraction.” And it would “decriminalize” the use of ganja for medical and religious purposes.
If that confuses you — decriminalizing pot but still ticketing those who possess it — you’ve got company.
“It simply doesn’t make sense,” the Jamaican Observer editorialized. How, it asked, does fining people “square with the government’s proposal to allow the use of the herb for religious purposes?” The question remains unanswered, but the move was definitely aimed at least in part at promoting religious freedom.
But what religion endorses marijuana use?
Rastafarianism — a singular movement founded in Jamaica in the 1930s.
Specifically: Rastas wear their hair in dreadlocks, eschew alcohol, often disdain homosexuality, are vegetarian and worship Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, who died (and may have been murdered) in 1975.
And Rastas smoke dope. From the BBC:
Marijuana is regarded as a herb of religious significance. It is used in Rastafari reasoning sessions, which are communal meetings involving meditation. According to Leonard Barrett, Rastafarians first began using Marijuana in reaction to the treatment of blacks in society. It became a reactionary device to enable freedom from the establishment….
Marijuana is used by Rastafarians to heighten feelings of community and to produce visions of a religious and calming nature. Rastafarians are unlikely to refer to the substance as marijuana; they usually describe it as the wisdom weed or the holy herb.
The latter name is used because Rastafarians believe that marijuana use is sacred, following biblical texts justifying its use.
Stereotypes of weed-smoking, dreadlocked Rastas abound. The Rastas most recognizable to many in the United States may be musicians such as Bob Marley and Bad Brains, the legendary punk band founded in Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s.
But while it’s easy to stereotype Rastas, marijuana use in Jamaica is linked to religious freedom. Indeed, in 2001, Jamaica’s National Commission on Ganja concluded that marijuana’s “reputation among the people as a panacea and a spiritually enhancing substance is so strong that it is must be regarded as culturally entrenched.”
In 2012, some estimated that up to 10 percent of the island’s 2.7 million people are Rastafarian.
So, if Jamaica permits marijuana use in the fall, more than 200,000 will celebrate — though they can still be ticketed and fined.
Until that vote, here is former Marley bandmate Peter Tosh performing “Legalize It”: