Missing in action for a few weeks, how could I resist coming back with a bang when asked if I wanted to interview legendary son of a legend, Ziggy Marley, for SHE Caribbean? And how could I possibly resist asking Marijuanaman himself to enlighten me on the debate that continues to sweep the global psyche: Cannabis decriminalisation. Not that we don’t know where Ziggy stands on the whole question–perhaps poster boy is a misnomer, but the Marley position on legalisation has always been clear, so my quest was to get the up-to-the-minute take of the Caribbean’s cannabis über-advocate.
DLC: I read on The Economist that if Jamaica decriminalises small amounts of marijuana it will reduce the number of criminal offences by a million a week. That’s a staggering figure. Have you been part of the official conversation in Jamaica?
ZM: No, not at all, but I guess I’ve been speaking about it for years, since ‘Wild and Free’, talking about hemp and marijuana. But it’s the right steps, I think the whole world, not just Jamaica, is starting to realise the truth of this plant as a natural resource: it have medicinal properties, it have nutritional properties, it have industrial properties. We should make use of it.
And I think it would be a great asset to the whole Caribbean in terms of the prison population; by decriminalising the status of this plant we’re creating less criminals in society. It’s good! There still must be caution in the understanding and the use of the plant, of course, just like alcohol or even tobacco, we still have to move with caution.
DLC: So you think there’s still research to be done on the actual effects and long term benefits?
ZM: I mean, there has been research unofficially over thousands of years, this plant is not a new thing. Cultures have been using it for thousands of years so there’s that kind of research and that kind of reality that is, and then there’s the scientific and the medical guys who must do their thing.
But the practical thing has been done and it has been proven. Anything can have negative effects and threaten an individual or a certain population, so I’m not saying this plant is perfect for everybody on the face of the earth in terms of its medicinal and recreational use. We still have to be cautious and it’s not for everyone–but it is for some.
We also have to explore the industrial side of the plant–this is another thing that I speak about. It’s like the music–the smoking is the ‘pop music’ part of the plant, like yeah, let’s smoke! But there’s serious side of the plant which is the industrial use–this is the plant that can turn around the environmental impact we’ve been having on this planet. This is the one plant that God, nature, created that has so many different elements and uses, that can turn around some of the problems that we have. Obviously deforestation is a big issue on the planet, and this plant if used properly can replace a lot of the trees we have to cut down for products, paper, building materials, all type a things.
DLC: You’re referring to hemp now.
ZM: Yes, word needs to get out. “Half the story has never been told.” We know about the marijuana thing, but we want Jamaica and the Caribbean also to explore the hemp side of the plant because that would be a significant economical thing for poor countries.
DLC: I was going to ask: Are hemp and marijuana part of the same conversation by necessity? Obviously the answer is yes . . .
ZM: Yeah, and that is one of the problems, because I like looking on the whole picture, not just part of the picture. Let’s look on all of it, let’s talk about everything about the plant now; about the smoking, the medicinal, that’s one thing, but let’s get to the other thing, let’s not wait, let’s get it done in one swoop.
DLC: Do you think that people hit a mental stumbling block about hemp because of the connection with marijuana, or do they even understand it properly?
ZM: They don’t understand it, they are not knowledgeable about it, and because of the influence of the bigger industries that have been using their methods of making products for hundreds of years, the plastic guys, lumber guys, these guys are very reluctant to move ahead and try something new. Sometimes because of economic reasons, sometimes because of the fear of losing the control.
So the world is in that situation, and the Caribbean is part of that. I think the actual powers that be would much rather focus on marijuana and not hemp, because if hemp becomes as big as I wish it would, it would make a big impact on their bottom line–on the plastic guys, the lumber guys, the energy guys–because hemp can make biofuel, you know? It’s a very touchy thing for them, I think, which is why we’re hearing about the marijuana side of the plant because they can deal with that, but the energy side and the industrial side, that’s a much bigger fish, you know?
DLC: Ziggy Marley Organics is a great example of where hemp could develop potential for cottage industries.
ZM: Imagine the plant hemp, right? The seeds are very nutritious, and we need more knowledge on that. But this is a plant, very easy to grow, where the seeds alone can help starving children and poor countries where nutrition is a problem, so for me to put out roasted hemp seeds is really a way for me to talk about these things to people like you, who can get the word out and get the idea out, of the importance of this plant . . .
DLC: In Saint Lucia we’ve had a group called the Industrial Hemp Initiative for over 15 years, who promote the large scale industrial benefits and particularly the niche manufacturing side: hand-made soaps and lotions, organic products which have a market in tourism for small businesses.
ZM: Oh yeah, that’s true.
DLC: So we have a progressive campaign but unfortunately we don’t see much reaction from the government of Saint Lucia. Hopefully with Caricom getting on the ball this last few weeks we’ll actually see the conversation take place.
ZM: Yeah, I mean if Caricom and the Caribbean can get ahead of this it can really help our situation. We can be leaders, we don’t have to be always followers. We don’t have to wait, we can always lead.
DLC: What do you think the impact of legalising recreational marijuana would have on the Rastafarian religion, on Rastas?
ZM: Personally I don’t see it have any big impact on us, because we were always working outside the laws anyway. I mean, we’re good, our spirituality, our faith is not affected by laws, the way we practise and what we do. So it’s good, at least we won’t be criminals . . .
DLC: I was about to say – the laws have criminalised the members of your religion. Suddenly Rasta would not equate to criminal and . . .
ZM: Yeah, and that is one way you can put it, but I mean when Christianity was being persecuted or Jews were being persecuted, they still practised their thing even if it was the worst thing they could do.
They never stopped.
Society and whatever negativity they have towards one spiritual aspect of other people, it never stops what we believe in . . .