On the “sensible” use of ganja in Jamaica

Marijuana (or cannabis, or “ganja” as it’s generally known in Jamaica) is a complex and many-layered issue on the island. No, actually most of us do not all sit around under a palm tree puffing on a spliff all day, as many foreigners seem to think. As I am often mistaken for a tourist when we visit Negril, I am repeatedly offered the weed – whether to smoke, perhaps some cookies, and – perhaps something stronger? As usual, Jamaican stereotypes are reinforced through tourism, often to an extreme degree.

But in the real world in Jamaica – not the pretty little “let’s get high” world envisioned by the foreign tourist – ganja is a real social issue. We often talk about young men standing on the corner, “rubbing their hand miggle” as they prepare weed to put into a spliff. This is a common sight, whether in what we call “underserved” communities in urban spaces, or under a tree out in the country somewhere. When we used to take our son to school, we passed young men working on their first spliff of the morning, every single day. Most of those young men would have nothing else to do that day – or the day after, or the day after that. And yet, Jamaicans do still believe it is a “part of our culture,” especially in relation to the Rastafari – and that is that. Or if you prefer, “It is what it is.”

The hand miggle.

Meanwhile, in the uptown world, fancy establishments have popped up. They are called “herb houses” (I think) and they are owned by businessmen looking to make an extra buck. The one down the road from where we live seems to be a popular party venue (at least, until COVID-19 curfews started to bite). I suppose if one wanted one could go there for a cup of coffee. However, it might be “ganja-infused.” So, no thanks.

Then there are the small ganja farmers, who apparently are being sidelined by…whom? To be honest, I don’t understand the economics of it, although Jamaicans seem to be perpetually irritated by the fact that in Colorado, USA, and a number of other states, ganja is really big business. It is as if the Americans have usurped our rightful place as the Original Home of Ganja. Why aren’t we making millions out of the weed? I am not sure I have really grasped what the Jamaican Government is trying to do, in terms of regulation, either. However, large quantities of the stuff (especially in the export/import trade) are definitely still illegal here.

So, I found this carefully worded press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness quite interesting. I think they are trying to gently tell us that ganja can, in fact, be harmful to one’s health. Some local psychiatrists would agree – and this is particularly true for our vulnerable teenagers. I know of at least a couple of very sad cases. However, this is not talked about much at all, and the National Council on Drug Abuse has been rather quiet for quite a long time.

I will be interested to see what impact this campaign, which was launched a few weeks ago, will have locally. I heard the jingle on the radio for the first time today, and it is definitely catchy. Let’s see how it goes. By the way, I cannot find the website link.

NCDA urges ‘Good Ganja Sense’

  • Campaign jingle and educational material roll-out

KINGSTON, JAMAICA, Monday, April 19, 2021: On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, some Jamaican citizens and residents will be joining in the “4-20” celebration of ganja across the globe. Recognising the significance that this day has taken on globally and locally, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) calls for Jamaican nationals and residents to continue to exercise good ganja sense.

Ganja has had tremendous social and cultural significance to Jamaica and Jamaicans, becoming an integral element of the country’s folkways since its introduction to the island by Indian indentured servants and its adoption by emancipated Africans in the 19th century. The NCDA urges Jamaicans to build on and enhance folk knowledge of the plant by now embracing science-based approaches to its use. These include research activities that drive industrial and medical applications of the plant with spinoffs for commercial-scale farming.

In recent years there have been many promising studies on ganja, some of which have revealed that it contains a variety of compounds with potentially beneficial uses. These, however, must be explored within the context of rigorous scientific studies to determine potential benefits or harms, and provide the information necessary to maximise the former and minimise the latter.

In this regard, the NCDA is pleased with the continued work being undertaken by local research institutions on the plant and its derivatives, and encourages even more initiatives in that direction. In particular, the Council joins Minister with responsibility for gender, the Hon. Olivia Grange, who at its March 16 ‘Women in Ganja’ virtual forum called for more research on the use of ganja derivatives in the treatment of gynaecological conditions.

Caution against Recreational Ganja Use

Yet, even as the Council supports the development of a robust regulated cannabis industry for Jamaica, it continues to be concerned about the challenges posed by recreational use of the plant. The decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of ganja should not be interpreted to mean that recreational use of the plant has no negative consequences. On the contrary, this is especially the case where this use involves adolescents and those most vulnerable to its harmful effects. The Council therefore cautions against recreational use of the plant, especially among these groups.

Research into the effects of recreational use of the plant on the brain as well as on behaviour continues. The NCDA commits to helping to disseminate new research findings in this regard, and to help the country to make the most productive use of the plant.

This is one of the main objectives of the Council’s Good Ganja Sense Campaign, launched last month by State Minister of Health and Wellness, Mrs. Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn. The campaign jingle urging good ganja sense was released today and can be found on YouTube as well as on the Good Ganja Sense website.

The cover of Peter Tosh’s classic album “Legalise It.” I wonder what he would think of the current state of ganja in Jamaica. Knowing him, he might have some choice words to say.


One thought on “On the “sensible” use of ganja in Jamaica

  1. Making sense of ganja. One of the older students of our Art School who smoked ganja in the 60s, and later became a lecturer, advised students as follows regarding ganja: “you may become a person you don’t like.” This advise turned out to be salutary to many of us who joined the ranks of the cool ganja smokers. So what is the truth about ganja behind the image of underground or counterculture ‘cool’? Is it a spiritual pathway? No, it contains chemicals which have physical, mental and psychological effects, but it is a mistake to think that the chemical itself can lead to spiritual enlightenment. Many are impressed by their first experience, which can induce pleasant feelings of bliss; but these become more and more difficult to attain as users “chase their first high.” So the initial moments of bliss are not repeated as the body becomes used to the chemical. But users hang onto the illusion that they are part of an elitist in-group who know more than ‘ordinary’ people about almost everything. Users become addicted to the chemical and the illusory chase for a blissful state – which never happens. But the illusion continues, and at the same time certain not very elevated side effects become evident with continues usage. The drug does make one crave food (‘the munchies’), induces sexual feelings and reduces intellectual sharpness. These characteristics have created a ‘culture’ which has not improved society, but has rendered the users less able to deal with the challenges of ordinary life. There is a noticeable lack of respect for personal boundaries, rights and freedoms, exacerbated by the crude capitalist stranglehold of dealers and growers, leading to exploitation and abuse. The ‘ganja philosophy’ however is apparently anti-capitalist, and users believe that they are entitled to take from capitalists what is rightly theirs. This usually amounts to theft and violence against working people. Then there is the problem that ganja definitely worsens and exacerbates residual mental illnesses. This has been demonstrated by scientific studies conducted into the use of ganja, magic mushrooms, LSD etc (for example by Dr Stanislaus Grof et al.) It has been observed that such drugs effect different individuals in markedly different ways, and those who have mental illnesses through no fault of their own, are likely to experience very serious problems. The all-knowing ganja philosophers, however, are way above such systematic scientistic research….

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