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Rastafari and Ganja
The Rasta Movement



Rastafari and Ganja, The Rasta Movement

For many Rastas, smoking cannabis (known as ganja, herb, collie, or lambs bread) is a spiritual act, often accompanied by Bible study; they consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, and brings them closer to Jah. The burning of the herb is often said to be essential "for it will sting in the hearts of those that promote and perform evil and wrongs". Many believe that cannabis originated in Africa, and that it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming.

They are not surprised that it is illegal, seeing it as a powerful substance that opens people's minds to the truth something the Babylon system, they reason, clearly does not want. They contrast their herb to liquor, which they feel makes people stupid, and is not a part of African culture. While there is a clear belief in the beneficial qualities of cannabis, it is not compulsory to use it, and there are Rastafarians who do not do so. Dreadlocked mystics, often ascetic, known as the sadhus, have smoked cannabis in India for centuries. The migration of many thousands of Indian Hindus to the Caribbean in the 20th century brought this culture to Jamaica.

They believe that the smoking of cannabis enjoys Biblical sanction and is an aid to meditation and religious observance.

Among Biblical verses Rastas believe justify the use of herb:

  • Genesis 1:11 "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."
  • Genesis 3:18 "... thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
  • Proverbs 15:17 "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."[1]
  • Psalms 104:14 "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man."

According to Rastafarian and other scholars, the etymology of the word "cannabis" and similar terms in all the languages of the Near East may be traced to the Hebrew qaneh bosm - that is one of the herbs God commands Moses to include in his preparation of sacred anointing perfume in Exodus 30:23; the Hebrew term also appears in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:19; and Song of Songs 4:14. Deuterocanonical and canonical references to the patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses "burning incense before the Lord" are also applied, and many Rastas today refer to cannabis by the term ishence a slightly changed form of the English word "incense".

Then-Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno, however, ruled that Rastafari do not have the religious right to smoke ganja in violation of drug laws in the United States of America. The position is the same in the United Kingdom, where, in the Court of Appeal case of R. v. Taylor [2002] 1 Cr. App. R. 37, it was held that the UK's prohibition on cannabis use did not contravene the right to freedom of religion conferred under the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Parts of the above article are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from Wikipedia. Images courtesy FCIT

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