Rasta roots of ganja need to be recognized under legalization

This old-school history of cannabis is the very foundation upon which activists have been able to build a global movement to legalize cannabis

Not many mainstream Canadian cannabis activists have used their platform to bring attention to discriminatory policing practices – like carding of racialized and Indigenous youth and youth of Afrakan-Caribbean descent. 

Or to the fact that the Afrakan-Caribbean population remains over-represented in our prison system. 

Jodie Emery has been an exception. She has been vocal about racism and classism when it comes to cannabis and how racialized communities have been treated harshly by the Canadian courts. 

As a woman, Emery has taken many bold stances and proven her commitment and passion to the cause. She has used her privilege well, which is why her remarks in an article from the July 26-August 1 issue of NOW come as a big surprise.

Emery’s statement that she does not want her new Kensington café to cater to “the Rasta-coloured stuff” (maybe because they are Rasta, or are influenced by Rastafari culture?) are very disrespectful. 

Acknowledging the culture and history of cannabis is essential to how Canada will respond to legalization. That “Rasta-coloured stuff” is the foundation of an ancient indigenous cultural tradition Rastafari have been blessed to protect and cherish.

Rastafari movements in Canada, Jamaica, the UK, Latin America and the U.S. have been educating people like Emery about the culture, technology, ritual and reverence of cannabis use for decades. This old-school history of cannabis is the very foundation upon which activists have been able to build a global movement to legalize cannabis.

The Afrakan-Caribbean population remains almost completely absent from the huge amounts of energy, time and money already being harvested from cannabis industries popping up all over Canada. 

Emery’s words do not inspire inclusion but seem to perpetuate this exclusion. Nor do her words promote diversity in activism. So with whom will Emery be organizing from her new hub of ganja activism?

Abi Roach, her Kensington neighbour and owner of Hotbox Cafe, puts it bluntly. She thinks Emery is trying to encroach on her clientele. She suggests it is opportunism. Emery disagrees. She says, “I want something with a more mainstream presentation.” 

Without a foundational relationship with Rastafari communities, be they in the GTA or in Vancouver, such sentiments suggest legalization will perpetuate the same old systemic patterns and practices. Carding and racial profiling, arrests and targeting of racialized communities will continue with even harsher prison sentences, judging by policy that has already been revealed. 

Most Rastafari will be re-criminalized by laws that will not allow tenants to use cannabis in their private rental units. Indeed. Far too few Rastafari own land in Canada, including private homes. Why isn’t Emery speaking out about that? 

Why isn’t she reaching out to Rastafari communities across Canada and using her political clout to mobilize grassroots communities to challenge these highly discriminatory policies?

Will Emery be an ally to those casualties of the drug war? 

The CN Tower flew the red, gold and green of the Jamaican flag on Caribana weekend. Those are not just decorative colours. They are appropriated from the Rastafari. They represent the history and values of Indigenous nations.

Yolisa Dalamba is communications director for OrGanja Cannabis Society. organja.org.

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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