Cannabis comes to Negril
FOR most of his 67 years, Verald Vassell has preached ganja's medicinal and religious virtues. Until last year, those who listened were largely from his Rastafarian faith.
With use of small portions of the weed decriminalised in Jamaica this year, Vassell, popularly known as Ras Iyah, is preparing to host the Cannabis Cup in Westmoreland, his home parish.
The 'Cup' was first held in 1988 and has been staged mainly in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, hailed by many ganja lovers as the weed capital of the world.
Promoted by High Times Magazine, the Cannabis Cup will be held for the first time in Jamaica, from November 12-15 in Negril.
Hundreds of ganja advocates, including reggae acts, are expected to be in Negril for the event. Billboard Magazine is expected to announce the artiste lineup this week.
Ras Iyah said he and members of his Rastafari In Inity organisation met with senior High Times staff in November and January, to finalise plans for the show.
"We thought it would be good to have the Cannabis Cup in Jamaica but the amendments were in process at the time. We decided to wait and see what the Government would do," he told the Sunday Observer.
Late last year, Jamaica's justice minister Mark Golding announced the government's plans to relax some restrictions on ganja use.
In April, the Government announced that under amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, people in possession of up to two ounces of ganja cannot be arrested or given a criminal record. They can be fined and issued a ticket.
Matt Stang, director of advertising and sponsorships at High Times, spoke about the monthly publication's decision to introduce their landmark competition to Jamaica in an interview with the Observer.
"We were approached last year to help amplify the voices of grassroots people and Rastafari who have borne the brunt of the persecution to keep an industry alive so they would benefit," he said. "As a matter of fact, we were approached by many other individuals and groups but what stood out to us most, was the vision that was shared with us. They did not ask for money, they asked for a partnership."
Since it was founded in 1974 by American firebrand ganja advocate, Tom Forcade, High Times has championed worldwide legalisation of the plant.
It has published a number of feature stories on the ganja movement in Jamaica and its umbilical ties to reggae. Artistes including Bob Marley, Burning Spear and Ziggy Marley have appeared on the High Times cover.
Music is one component of the Cannabis Cup which is primarily a contest in which diverse brands of ganja are assessed by a panel of judges.
Ras Iyah expects the event to be a winner for Negril, a once rustic seaside town that was a haven for ganja-loving tourists during the 1970s.
"The hotels, taxis, all tourism stakeholders will benefit. But most importantly, it will bring to the fore the type of technology needed to advance research," he said.