Legendary Jamacian reggae artist Bob Marley has become an icon in cannabis culture and an enduring reminder of the power of peace, love and music to unite people across the world. It’s very important to note that Bob Marley wasn’t into cannabis just to get high, rather, he believed in its power to enhance spiritual practice and achieve enlightenment. Marley was a convert to the Rastafari movement and a proponent of the sacramental smoking of cannabis.
The use of Cannabis in Rastafarianism in general is often misinterpreted. The plant is smoked as a religious sacrament and not (as more commonly believed) for recreational purposes. In fact, pious Rastafarians should not use marijuana recreationally, imbibing only as a sacred ritual. Rastas believe that Cannabis enables them to reach a state where they become closer to God (Jah) and see the world’s ‘truth’ more clearly.
Rastafarianism is first and foremost an Afrocentric cultural movement, largely focused on the African Diaspora. Gatherings in Rasta culture, known as “groundations”, are assemblies of chanting, discussions, and the ritual smoking of cannabis, which is considered a sacrament with spiritual and medicinal properties. The purpose of this rite is to help the practitioner achieve greater mystical insight and to enhance meditation.
The Rastafari believe that the famous Tree of Life in the Bible was originally a Cannabis plant. Several passages in the old testament bolster the belief that Rastas are not only allowed, but encouraged to use Cannabis for it’s psychoactive effects. Exodus 10:12 tell us “Eat every herb of the land.” While most Abrahamic religions forbid the use of Cannabis, despite their shared rest, Rasta culture has embraced and revered this ancient plant as “The herb is the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2) Psalm 104:14 also tells us “He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the services of man.”
Despite the prolific use of Cannabis among Rastafari in Jamaica, the plant has only been decriminalized as recently as 2015 and Jamaica remains the only nation to legalize the plant for reasons of religious observance. Needless to say, tourism has been booming.
In keeping with a lifestyle of natural medicine and plant based sacraments, Rastas follow dietary guidelines known as Ital, which prohibits any foods with artificial or over-processed foods. Rastafari commitment to a natural way of life extends even to their resistance to western medicine, including surgical amputations. The belief stems from Leviticus 21:5, which says, “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”
When Bob Marley was first diagnosed with Melanoma in 1977, physicians recommended amputation to stop the metastasis of his cancer but he refused, preferring instead to seek natural remedies. Unfortunately, this piety may have precipitated his death in 1981 at the age of 36. We may never know what would have happened had he sought treatment outside the bounds of his faith but his religious integrity remained intact until his passing. What we can be sure of is his indelible mark on cannabis culture, Jamaica and the Rastafari faith that will live on in his music and in the hearts of those to whom it speaks.