Kaya: Bob Marley and Marijuana

Bob Marley
album cover of 'Kaya'

Kaya, the name of one of Bob Marley's reggae albums is a Jamaican word for cannabis, hemp, marijuana. The backcover of this album shows a picture of a burning joint (by Neville Garrick). The Japanese edition of Kaya was released with a different backcover, so rabid was the anti-marijuana paranoia there.

Bob Marley has always defended this often maligned herb. He equated condemnation of this natural herb with blasphemy. How could a plant created by God be made illegal by humans? "You mean they can tell God that it's not legal?" he once asked a Canadian journalist. If growing cannabis is to be a crime then by man's laws God who made all plants was a criminal too. Bob was not surprized that people who smoke the weed were persecuted by "Babylon", the ruling system, reminding people: "Them crucify Christ, remember?"

One of Marley's greatest hits, "I Shot the Sheriff" (which was made popular by Eric Clapton), describes the fate of a marijuana grower hunted by a fanatical law enforcement officer:

Sheriff John Brown always hate I,
for what, I never know.
Everytime I plant a seed,
he said, kill it before it grow.
He said, kill them before they grow.
Bob Marley was familiar with the issues. This first musical superstar from the Third World went to jail for marijuana, as did all three founding members of the Wailers. He smoked a lot of grass. Some people who know only about his untimely death and that he smoked marijuana would think that this might be evidence for the harmfulness of this plant.

Few people know that the cancer that lead to Marley's death was a brain tumor that started out on his foot. It was first noticed when a football (soccer) injury refused to heal. Bob was playing football for hours a day. Maybe we should ban soccer? ;-) For religious reasons Bob refused to have his toe amputated and the cancer spread to other parts of his body. It is amazing that at his young age he survived more than two years with his cancer. It might have been because of his strict diet, the unorthodox medical treatment he received by Dr. Issel in Bavaria, or it might have been the cancer reducing effects of THC, the main active substance in marijuana (see a US government study that showed fewer cancers in THC-treated animals).

Let me assure you that I don't think smoking 10 fat joints a day is particularly good for you, plus it's illegal. But whether someone uses marijuana moderatly (as most of its users do) or whether they use it more intensively, by far the greatest risk associated with it today is to do with the fact that it's illegal and not with any immediate harm from the drug itself.

When people are caught they go to jail, get kicked out school, lose their jobs, etc. not because the drug makes them do bad things to others (it doesn't) but because drugs laws that were drawn up many years ago by ill-informed and prejudiced politicians brand them as evil criminals, as bad as people who hurt or rob someone. An otherwise law-abiding person who hurts no one is considered as bad as a rapist in the eyes of the police and the courts only because he might grow or possess a natural plant that was grown legally for thousands of years. This doesn't make sense.

One in four Americans, one in five Germans and one in fifty Japanese is a criminal by virtue of having smoked cannabis. The law is not working and it is doing more damage than it can ever prevent. It should be changed.

When you ever find yourself in a position where the forces of reason and the forces of habit and convention collide you will find that reason usually loses out. Most people will hold arguments for maintaining the status quo up to a much lower standard of proof than they require of anyone challenging the status quo. A long time ago marijuana could be banned because most people thought the law would not hurt any of their friends. But now that the law has been around for many years and large numbers of people get hurt by its enforcement, it is still difficult to convince enough people that it was a mistake.

All the original reasons given for the ban have been exposed as lies. Nobody any longer belives that marijuana turns ordinary people into bloodthirsty lunatics. We know that most of its users do not move on to harder drugs. It is safer than many freely sold medicines and even some foods, let alone the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco that kill more people every week than all dangerous illegal drugs do in a whole year. We need a drug policy that's more than a list of banned substances and penalties. The only drugs policy that will work relies on information and compassion for our fellow human beings.

By popularizing reggae music and its marijuana-celebrating lyrics, Bob Marley has prompted many people to question what they have been told, to take a fresh look at the evidence. Bob used music to reach and teach, to spread the message of liberty. Whether you may come to the same conclusions as Bob did or not, have the courage to take a fresh look at beliefs that people take for granted. Read the information that's out there. Study the arguments. Be bold enough to judge for yourself.

See also:
See also: Bob Marley & The Wailers
See also: Hemp in Japan
See also: Kaya at Amazon.com
See also: More about this website

A documentary on the life of Bob Marley

Robert Nesta Marley
6 Feb 1945 - 11 May 1981

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