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Ganja, Rastafarians and the High Times Jamaica Cannabis Cup

Posted on22. Nov, 2015 by .


The flight out of Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C., to catch my connecting flight to Jamaica, looked like most flights when I am leaving D.C.: A lot of suits and ties and business people on board heading to or returning from a business meeting or a meeting with their members of Congress, or their office in the nation’s capital.

But the flight from Charlotte to Jamaica left no doubt that this was no longer a business trip for most on the plane. They were dressed casually, and some were obviously dressed for the beach. Something about Jamaica that suggests relaxing on the beach with a nice rum drink and some good ganga — the term generally used for marijuana in Jamaica.

I realized I might well be one of the only people on my flight who were actually going to Jamaica on a business trip – albeit heading to the first High Times Jamaica Cannabis Cup in Negril. I know; it’s tough work, but someone has to do it!

Jamaica – Yeah, Mon!

The flights from DC to Montego Bay, the closest airport to Negril, take about five hours, and once one is on the island and through customs, it is then another 90-minute drive to Negril. That travel time allows one to slow down a bit, to begin the necessary emotional process of getting in sync with the Jamaican pace of life, and to begin to enjoy the island culture.

In Jamaica, one really has no choice but to leave the hard-charging lifestyle aside. The Caribbean island nation operates on its own take-life-easy pace – it is called “Jamaica time” — which is one of the appealing aspects for those coming to Jamaica on vacation, along with the endless sandy beaches and beautiful blue Caribbean water.

The first thing one notices is that Jamaicans drive on the “wrong” side of the road, an unsettling practice for us Americans, a reminder that Jamaica was a long-time British colony, before finally gaining their independence in 1962. That also explains their decidedly British accent, which sometimes is difficult for Americans to understand.

The Jamaican High Times Cannabis Cup

High Times, as many readers will know, has been holding an annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam for 28 years, on Thanksgiving weekend. And with the advance of legalization in the U.S., they now hold a number of domestic Cannabis Cup events each year. But this event in Negril is their only other event held outside the U.S. And because of the long relationship between ganga and Jamaica, the decision to schedule a Cup in Jamaica seemed only appropriate.

In late February of this year, the Jamaican Parliament enacted new laws governing ganja, which took effect on July 15, removing criminal penalties for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, substituting a $ 5 civil fine with no arrest or criminal record. In addition, households are now permitted to cultivate up to five marijuana plants. The legislation also authorized officials to enact regulations licensing the cultivation and dispensing of medical and industrial cannabis, as well as recognizing the right of the Rastafarians to use ganja as a religious sacrament.

Already they have invited U.S. marijuana tourism by announcing that those from the U.S. who hold medical recommendations will also qualify to obtain up to 2 ounces of medical ganja while they are in Jamaica. Justice Minister Mark Golding described the reforms as “long overdue.”

But still planning the Jamaican Cup was not easy. Before the required government permits could be obtained, High Times was advised it would be necessary to win the approval and cooperation of the Rastafarians. Under the new Jamaican marijuana law, only the Rastafarians are legally permitted to hold public demonstrations using ganga, and that is because it is now their legally recognized religious sacrament.

The Rastafari

The ancestors of present day Rastafarians arrived in Jamaica as African slaves destined to work in the Jamaican sugar cane fields during the early 1800s. Thought slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834, by edict of the British Parliament (some three decades before it was ended by the Civil War in the U.S.), Rastafarians remained the underclass of Jamaica society.

As with other communities, there are several factions and different leaders who speak for and represent the four different tribes of Rastas in Jamaica. The task of building a coalition with the Rastas fell to the Associate Publisher Rick Cusick and Board Chair Michael Kennedy from High Times, and to Harvard Law Professor Ron Nesson, a man with a long relationship with Jamaica and the Rastafarians. And Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding was an active participant in that process, which might not have been possible otherwise.

The negotiations leading-up to the permit for the event were challenging for all the parties, with several deadlines missed and new deadlines set, but somehow in the end common sense prevailed and the event was approved by all the stakeholders.

The government saw this event as an appropriate way (at last) to show respect to the Rastafarians, a culture with a long history of discrimination, and the Rastafarians astutely saw this as an opportunity to showcase their religion, and their culture, in a more favorable light.

So this latest event – the High Times 2015 Jamaica Cannabis Cup – a four-day Cup, held at a public park on the beach in Negril, with lots of exhibitors and Jamaican live music and the annual awards ceremony judging the finest ganga in Jamaica on the final evening — was officially sponsored by the Rastafari Rootzfest. And the Rastafarian culture and religion were common themes throughout the four days, with drum circles and Rastafarian chants prominently featured in the opening ceremonies, and Rasta speakers featured daily at the seminar tent. And the Rastas maintained a food-court next door to the Cup, with traditional Rastafarian offerings.


The most significant thing I gleaned from this brief Jamaican visit was a far greater appreciation of the Rastarian culture and the importance they attach to the legalization of marijuana in Jamaica. It was clear that these Rastafarian leaders perceive the recent changes legalizing ganga in Jamaica as a significant step towards recognizing the legitimacy of their entire culture – not just their use of ganga – and to them this moment has the feeling of freedom and dignity, after a long period of disrespect and discrimination.

For most Americans, I suspect Rastas are seen as colorful people, with their bright orange, yellow and green clothing, and their distinctive dreadlocks, but aspects of the Rastafarian religion may seem strange; e.g., the worship of the late Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie as their savior. I am not here to try to convince anyone that they should worship Haile Selassie, or that they should become a practicing Rastafarian.

But I recognize now that those who truly hold this religion in their hearts and their lives deserve the same respect we show other religions; such as those who believe the Pope is infallible and is a direct descendant of St. Peter; or those who believe one must be baptized in the blood of Christ to have ever-lasting life. All religions require a giant leap of faith, but most of them also appear to play an important cohesive role in the disparate cultures. And the specific beliefs of the Rastafarians do not seem to me more difficult to abide, than do the beliefs of many of the more prominent religions.

As they see the full legalization of ganga looming in the near future in Jamaica, the Rastas want to assure that their culture will at last benefit financially from the legalization of their sacred herb, and that they will not be shoved aside and exploited by outside interests.

Legalizing marijuana in Jamaica is a change that has brought a measure of freedom, and promise of a brighter future, economically and culturally, to the Rastafarians. That is a milestone we can all celebrate.

The fight to legalize marijuana was never limited to the U.S., and while we continue to lead the way, legalization is alive and well and moving forward in many other countries, including Jamaica. It’s a lovely thing to see.

Yeah, mon!

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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Gallup: Support For Legalizing Marijuana At Historic High

Posted on26. Oct, 2015 by .


Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” according to nationwide polling data released today by Gallup.

The percentage ties the highest level of support ever reported by Gallup, and is more than twice the level of support reported in the mid-1990s.

Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely to favor legalizing cannabis, while Republicans and Americans over the age of 65 are least likely to do so. Among those poll respondents age 18 to 34, 71 percent endorse legalization. Among respondents age 35 to 49 years of age, 64 percent support legalizing marijuana.

Gallup Poll: Americans' Views on Legalizing Marijuana

“Americans’ support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58 percent,” pollsters concluded. “Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future. Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago. … Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization.

“These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.”

The 2015 Gallup poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Commenting on the latest polling data, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Supporting the status quo — the notion that marijuana and those adults who consume it responsibly ought to be criminalized — is now a fringe position in America. These results ought to embolden campaigning politicians, as well as elected officials, to take a more pronounced stance in favor of legalizing and regulating cannabis in a manner that is consistent with the desires of the majority of their constituents.”

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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Hemp Homes Could Hit New High

Posted on19. Sep, 2015 by .


The Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from it. Henry Ford built car parts with it. George Washington grew it. Now, as more farmers are allowed to harvest this multi-purpose plant, hemp might see a new heyday – in homes.

The United States is rolling out a come-back mat for an ancient leaf that was widely used from Colonial times through World War II but fell into anti-drug disfavor. Its 2014 farm bill permits limited growing of hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of the same cannabis plant that produces marijuana.

Hemp backers see potential boom times ahead. Buoyed by influential bi-partisan supporters, including GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, farmers are aiming to put down seed. Builders are hoping those crops lower the cost of hemp fiber, used to make non-toxic, energy-efficient insulation.

“We are at a tipping point,” says Greg Flavall, technical building advisor for Hemp Technologies Collective, which sells a hemp mixture for insulating walls. He says inquiries are rising, and he expects the number of hemp homes – now about a dozen in the U.S. – could quadruple in the next year.

“It all comes down to acceptance,” Flavall says, noting many baby boomers saw hemp as taboo and didn’t distinguish it from marijuana. He says they thought that if a house with hemp caught fire, the neighborhood would party.

Not so. Hemp contains much lower levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) so it won’t give people a high. It also looks different than marijuana during cultivation, since it grows in densely-packed stalks of nine to 15 feet tall. Its oil and fiber can be used to make thousands of products including textiles, health foods, and Mercedes-Benz door panels.

“What’s coming are the hemp wars.”

Still, hemp in America faces obstacles. Building inspectors don’t know what to make of it. Some hemp farmers are having trouble importing seed. Others are getting blowback from medical marijuana growers, who don’t want cross-pollination from hemp plants because it could lower their crops’ THC levels.

“What’s coming are the hemp wars. We’re ground zero,” says Cliff Thomason, president of ORHEMPCO, an Oregon-based company that aims to produce 10,000 acres of industrial hemp in the state in the next five years. He tries to avoid conflict with marijuana growers by keeping pollen-bearing male hemp plants in greenhouses.

Hemp Has Storied Tradition

For centuries, hemp didn’t have to prove itself. It was woven into the sails that took Christopher Columbus’ ships to the New World and into the first American flag that was sewn by Betsy Ross. It was also used in World War II to make naval ropes and parachute webbing.

China leads the world in making and exporting hemp products, many of which go to the U.S. The European Union also has an active hemp market, led by France, the United Kingdom, Romania, and Hungary, according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Dozens of homes in Europe have used hemp as insulation – a trend that began catching on in the U.S. about five years ago. Builders place hempcrete – a mixture of ground-up hemp stalk, lime and water – into wall forms that are removed once it sets.

“It’s everything you want in a building, in a wall. It’s permeable so it mediates the humidity in the room,” and it resists mold as well as mildew, says Pam Bosch, homeowner of Highland Hemp House in Bellingham, Wash.

Plus, hemp has environmental benefits other building materials do not. Unlike concrete or fiberglass, it’s a renewable resource that sequesters carbon dioxide as it grows.

Manufacturers say their hemp mix is now largely cost-competitive with other insulation even though they have to import the plant’s fiber. They say domestic production could lower costs, allowing the U.S. to compete with China and the more than 30 countries that grow hemp.

Last year’s U.S. farm bill took the first step in decades toward decriminalizing hemp cultivation, which was not allowed without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. The DEA’s last such permit, for a quarter-acre experimental plot in Hawaii, expired in 2003.

“I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between states.”

The law allows states that have already legalized hemp to set up pilot growing programs. About two dozen states may now grow hemp, but not all have programs in place that issue licenses to farmers or help them secure DEA approval to import seed.

“I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between states…so they can fully capitalize on the commercial potential for this commodity,” Sen. McConnell said in welcoming passage of the bill’s hemp provision.

The law, despite bipartisan support, has critics. “I think it’s part of a larger agenda to normalize marijuana by a few,” Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group opposed to pot legalization, told the Associated Press.

Will Legalization Create Boom?

Another U.S. bill, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, is pending that would lift all federal restrictions on growing hemp and remove its classification as a controlled substance.

It also has broad political support, but it – like any stand-alone piece of legislation – will have difficulty winning passage in the current gridlocked Congress, says Eric Steenstra, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, an advocacy group.

Still, he’s confident of an eventual hemp comeback. “There’s so much potential,” Steenstra says, pointing to Clarkson University research that found hemp can also be used to make ultrafast supercapacitors that – like batteries – store and release energy.

“It’s going to take some time. We’re really starting from scratch,” he says, noting the U.S. has lost expertise and market dominance after decades of disallowing hemp production. He says building codes will need to accept hemp as insulation and specialized machinery will be needed to separate parts of its plant.

Studies suggest mixed prospects for a U.S. hemp revival. While several note the increasingly wide applications for the plant, others question whether the market would be big enough to encourage farmers to switch from other crops or invest in new machinery.

“Given the absence since the 1950s of any commercial and unrestricted hemp production in the United States, it is not possible to predict the potential market and employment effects of relaxing current restrictions on U.S. hemp production,” writes Renee Johnson, a specialist in agricultural policy at the Congressional Research Service, in the 2015 report.

Johnson says U.S. hemp production faces several obstacles, including DEA concerns that it could boost the likelihood of covert production of high-THC marijuana even though the two cannabis plants look different. She says there’s also global competition, noting China’s dominance and “Canada’s head start in the North American market for hemp seed and oil.”

Matt Engelmann, CEO of American Lime Technology, a manufacturer of prefabricated wall panels containing hemp, expects domestic production could reinvigorate the U.S. market. He doesn’t expect a revival will happen quickly but says “the tide is turning.”

News Moderator: Jacob Redmond 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Hemp Homes Could Hit New High As Growing Cannabis Gets Legal
Author: Wendy Koch
Contact: National Geographic: Images of Animals, Nature, and Cultures
Photo Credit: Asana Foods
Website: National Geographic News


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High Times’ Cannabis Consumer Choice Polling

Posted on27. Aug, 2014 by .


majority_supportOur friends at High Times (and former NORML director Dr. Jon Gettman) are running an online poll asking for consumers’ choice regarding the preferred marijuana distribution that emerges post-prohibition.

Legal Marijuana: Which Market Do You Prefer?
As we approach the new inevitability of legalized cannabis, three models have been proposed for a national marijuana market.
By Jon Gettman

In the past, the goal of marijuana legalization was simple: to bring about the end of federal prohibition and allow adults to use the plant without threat of prosecution and imprisonment. But now that legalization is getting serious attention, it’s time to examine how a legal marijuana market should operate in the United States.

Below are descriptions of the three kinds of legal markets that have emerged from various discussions on the subject. We would like to know which one you prefer.

First, though, let’s touch on a few characteristics that all of these proposals share. In each one, the market has a minimum age for legal use, likely the same as the current age limits for alcohol and tobacco. In each of these legal markets, there will be penalties for driving while intoxicated, just as with alcohol use. You can also assume that there will be guaranteed legal access to marijuana for medical use by anyone, regardless of age, with a physician’s authorization. The last characteristic shared by all three mar- kets is that there will be no criminal penalties for the adult possession and use of marijuana.

Proposal #1:
Government-Run Monopoly
Under this approach, there would be no commercial marijuana market allowed. Marijuana would be grown and processed for sale under government contracts, supervised and/or managed by a large, government-chartered nonprofit organization. Marijuana would be sold in state-run retail outlets (similar to the state-run stores that have a monopoly on liquor sales in places like Mississippi, Montana and Vermont, among others), where the sales personnel will be trained to provide accurate information about cannabis and its effects. Products like edibles and marijuana-infused liquids with fruity flavors would be banned out of a concern that they can encourage minors to try the drug. There would be no advertising or marketing allowed, and no corporate or business prof- its. Instead, the revenue earned from sales would pay for production costs and the operation of the state control organization; the rest of the profits would go to government-run treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Regulations would be enforced by criminal sanctions and traditional law enforcement (local, state and federal police). No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed. The price of marijuana would remain at or near current levels in order to discourage underage use.

Proposal #2:
Limited Commercial Market
Under this approach, the cultivation, processing and retail sale of marijuana would be conducted by private companies operating under a limited number of licenses issued by the federal government. Advertising and marketing would be allowed, but they would be regulated similar to the provisions governing alcohol and tobacco promotion. Taxation would be used to keep prices at or near current levels in order to discourage underage use. Corporate profits would be allowed, and tax revenues would be used to fund treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Regulations would be enforced by criminal sanctions and traditional law enforcement (local, state and federal police). No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed.

Proposal #3:
Regulated Free Market
Under this approach, entrepreneurs would have open access to any part of the marijuana market. Cultivation, processing and retail operations could be legally undertaken by anyone willing to bear the risks of investment and competition. Advertising and marketing would be allowed, but they would be regulated similar to the provisions governing alcohol and tobacco promotion. Prices would be determined by supply and demand, with taxation set at modest levels similar to current taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. (These vary widely from state to state, but assume that under this model, the price of marijuana would be substantially lower than it is in the current market.)

Also, home cultivation would be allowed. Licenses may be required for any sort of cultivation, but these would be for registration purposes only and subject to nominal fees based on the number of plants involved. Individuals and corporations would be allowed to make whatever profits they can through competition. Tax revenues would fund treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Competition and market forces would structure the market rather than licenses or government edicts, and regulatory agencies rather than law enforcement would supervise market activity.

A Different Approach
There are two key issues when it comes to deciding among these proposals. First, should the price of marijuana be kept high through government intervention in order to discourage underage use as well as abuse? Second, does commercialization translate into corporate money being spent to convince teenagers to use marijuana? Many of the proposals for how a legal market should operate are based on assumptions about these two issues, which leads to recommendations that the government must, one way or another, direct and control the marijuana market.

Obviously, the first two proposals outlined above reflect those very concerns. The third takes a different approach, in which marijuana is treated like similar psychoactive commodities, and the public relies on education, prevention and age limits to discourage underage use as well as abuse.

We want to know what type of legal marijuana market you prefer. Please take part in our poll on the HIGH TIMES website.

NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform

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