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Understanding The Rastafari Relationship With Weed


To some, the term “rasta” is affiliated with someone of Jamaican decent, who has dreadlocks and smokes weed. But in actuality, Rastafari is a religious movement originated in Jamaica in the 1930’s. Though many perceive it to be a lifestyle and philosophy toward life rather than a religious doctrine, being a Rastafarian is deeply spiritually rooted in its Afrocentric interpretation of Christianity.

a brief history

As slavery came to an end in the early 20th century, technological advances seemed to be pushing America forward, though there were still remnants of slavery and racism still very apparent. It was Leonard Percival Howell, a Pan-Africanism (the political empowerment and solidarity of all people of African descent) advocate who led a team of preachers throughout Jamaica to spread word or Rastafarianism. Marcus Garvey, a prominent activist for the rights of African Americans, suggested, "Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand!" Many Rastafari consider Garvey to be a prophet, similar to John the Baptist’s role in Christianity. The ‘day of deliverance’ that Garvey spoke of came in 1930, when Haile Selassie I became the emperor of Ethiopia. The emperor became known as the messiah and the movement was named after his birth name, Ras Tafari Makonnen. Howell encouraged Jamaicans to reject the British monarch as their ruler in favor of the new, black king as Selassie was reputedly a direct descendant of King Solomon and King David from the Bible, though argued by historians. Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized, hence, making Selassie and Ethiopia sacred.

Selassie grew in recognition after he lead allied soldiers to drive out the Italians who took over under Mussolini’s, the fascist leader of Italy, rule. To the Rastafari, this was further proof of his divinity. On April 21st of 1966, Selassie landed in Kingston, Jamaica for his first and only time to foster goodwill with the Rastafari. Since that day, April 21st has been recognized as a Jamaican holiday, Grounation Day.

the introduction of cannabis into the rastafari lifestyle

Believe it or not, Hinduism has many sects that incorporate a ceremonial consumption of cannabis. There are many positive references to cannabis in Hindu scripture, some are more explicit than in the Bible. Jamaicans were introduced to cannabis by indentured Indian laborers that were brought to the Jamaica to work by the British Empire, who used cannabis religiously. It is also suggested that the Kumina faith had influence on marijuana as a sacrament because they believe cannabis brought one closer to one's ancestors, even to the point of being possessed by them. Rastafari, however, reject the ancestral ideal and focus strictly on Jah’s (God’s) liberation of evil from the world.

Cannabis is not considered a ‘drug’ to the Rastafari. Rather, it is a medium that is used to open their mind and increase their spiritual awareness. To Rastafa, smoking marijuana is a ritual called a reasoning session. It is a time to come together to debate living according to the Rastafari outlook, heighten feelings of community and produce visions of a religious and calming nature. Rasta’s actually condemn the use of marijuana simply to get high.

The Hindi word for cannabis is ‘ganja,’derived from the Sanskrit "ganjika." Rasta’s adapted the term and incorporated it in Rastafari groundings.

the rastafari use of cannabis

Rastafari tend to avoid alcohol, tobacco, and even caffeine, claiming that these diminish a person's health and dignity, whereas cannabis is considered to be a sacred herb that soothes the troubled mind and allows one to reason more clearly. When they gather to discuss philosophical matters, Rasta’s will pass around pipes or joints beforehand to do so in a non-combative fashion. Doing so not only improves reasoning and social cohesion, but one's connection with Jah. Rasta’s believe that the ‘Tree of Life’ mentioned in the Bible is the marijuana plant. The effects of smoking marijuana allow the user to reach a sort of “cosmic consciousness,” a state where they become closer to Jah and can see the truth of the world more clearly. A Rastafari believes the ban on God-given plants is just another sign of the immoral nature of Babylon (money-orientated institutions) and a way to exercise an authority that no one has the right to possess.

One verse of the King James Version of the Bible that Rasta’s refer to frequently is Revelation 22:2. It reads, “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.“ As stated before, cannabis is not a drug used to get high to a Rastafari, and many do not smoke unless they are in a reasoning session.

bob marley

We wouldn’t be surprised if you were under the assumption that being a Rasta was a movement started by Bob Marley. The reggae singer was undoubtedly a huge part of spreading the religion, and was a Rastafari himself. However, it wasn’t until he was convinced by his wife, Rita Anderson.

Anderson was there on the day that Selassie visited Jamaica. She claims to have seen Christ-like stigmata marks on Selassie's hands as he waved from the car he was in. This heavily impacted her and influenced her decision to convert. Down the line, she and Marley married and had six children. Marley made and performed songs that promoted the ways of a Rasta, like the desire for world peace. became recognized as an ambassador, if not icon, for the faith.

more about rasta’s

The life of a Rasta is mainly focused on protecting your body, getting closer to Jah and providing peace to the world. Rasta’s believe that their hair is where their strength is derived, therefore they do not cut their hair and instead let it grow naturally and form into dread locks on their own. The Rastafari is not concerned with wealth and celebrity, they live by their means. The Rastafari lifestyle includes watching what you eat and only consuming natural, healthy foods. That means NO MEAT. The goal is to reach ‘livity,’ or to live righteously. It is a destructive, materialist culture that stands in opposition to Zion (the paradise promised to Rastafari).


Understanding The Rastafarian Relationship with Weed