Pubdate: Sun, 14 Sep 2014
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: David Mcfadden, Associated Press
Page: A5


(AP) - Taking a deep draw on a pipe that glows with burning 
marijuana, reggae luminary Bunny Wailer gives a satisfied grin 
through a haze of aromatic smoke in his concrete yard painted in the 
red, green, gold and black colors identified with his Rastafarian faith.

These days the baritone singer from the legendary Wailers, the group 
he formed in 1963 with late stars Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, has 
reason to feel good. There is unprecedented traction building in 
Jamaica to decriminalize pot, meaning the dreadlocked Wailer, 67, and 
other adherents of Rastafari - a homegrown spiritual movement that 
considers the drug divine - may soon be able to smoke without fear of arrest.

"Rastas have treated marijuana as something legal all along, even 
though we have been sent to prison for using the herb in our prayer. 
But this is the time for all these pressures to stop. The world is 
catching up now," the three-time Grammy winner said at his Kingston home.

Jamaica is known internationally for its marijuana. The hardy plant 
grows easily on the tropical Caribbean island, where its use is 
culturally entrenched despite being legally banned for 100 years. 
Cultivation is kept hidden, with small patches tucked into 
mountainsides, in swamps and between rows of other crops. Wailer was 
convicted of possession in 1967 and did more than a year of hard labor.

Previous moves to decriminalize the drug failed to advance mainly 
because officials feared they would violate international treaties 
and bring sanctions from Washington. But now, with a number of U.S. 
states relaxing their marijuana laws - Colorado and Washington state 
even allow recreational use - Jamaica is rethinking its position.

Justice Minister Mark Golding says Jamaica's Cabinet has approved a 
plan to decriminalize marijuana, including for religious purposes, 
and legislators are expected to authorize it before the end of the year.

Freedom to use marijuana for religious worship is one of various 
amendments to Jamaica's Dangerous Drugs Act supported by Prime 
Minister Portia Simpson Miller's administration. Her ministers also 
have proposed unclogging courts by decriminalizing small amounts of 
weed for personal use, making possession of 2 ounces or less a 
ticketable offense. The main hope is that a regulated medical 
marijuana and scientific research sector could help draw investments 
to the cash-strapped island, which is laboring under its latest loan 
program with the International Monetary Fund.

"Ganja," as marijuana is known locally, has a long history on the 
island. It was introduced to Jamaica in the 19th century by Indian 
indentured servants and it gained popularity as a medicinal herb. Use 
spread among the poor in the 1930s with the founding of Rastafari, a 
spiritual movement that melds Old Testament teachings and 
Pan-Africanism and whose followers worship the late Ethiopian Emperor 
Haile Selassie.

For Wailer, the time is clearly ripe for change in "Babylon," the 
Rasta term for the Western world.

"Rastas have gone through a lot of hassles for years, getting 
criminalized and locked up for using the herb. But things are 
changing because ganja is what the world needs now," Wailer said, 
before taking another appreciative toke from his pipe.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom