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Buju Banton's Troubles With 'Babylon' & Ganja

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Like Michael Jackson, Buju Banton's latest troubles have received
worldwide attention. His arrest three weeks ago for marijuana possession
was carried as breaking news by Rolling Stone, MTV, Billboard, Yahoo, ABC
News, the BBC, the Scotsman, the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, even the
Springfield News Sun in Ohio.

But unlike the Gloved One, the shocked outrage that greeted the Gargamel's
crime was that a Jamaican reggae star should be arrested for smoking weed
in the Land of Ganja. "A how dem can lock up Buju fi a likkle ting like
that?! More fire!"

On a routine anti-drugs raid, the police say they saw a man run into
Banton's studio, bawling, "Police!" so they followed him in. The officers
say they asked to search the premises and all the people present. But
Buju, well-known for his mercurial temper, refused and told them they had
to get a warrant.

One of the officers told the Jamaica Observer afterwards that the head of
the St Andrew North Division, Superintendent Assan Thompson, didn't take
too kindly to Buju's attitude. "Buju behaved disrespectfully... Him say we
can't just come inna him private property and come search up him brethren
dem," the policeman said. "Him can't chat to police so, especially in
front of the big superintendent."

This may or may not explain initial false reports that the police had
found 30 fully grown plants, after arresting Buju for smoking a spliff in
public. In any event, the 30-year-old, whose latest album, Friends For
Life, has been nominated for a Grammy award, appeared in court a few days
later and pleaded not guilty to charges of possession and cultivation of
marijuana. It turns out the police found only two plants. He was granted
bail of Ja$150,000 (TT$15,000) and will appear in court on January 7. No
mention was made of his licensed firearm and ammunition, which had been

"Smoking marijuana to me is not something that is taken casually," Buju
said in an interview last August while on a UK tour to promote Friends For
Life. "To me it's a divine thing. My first time smoking marijuana I was
about 14 years old, 15 years old. Just taking a one draw, yuh know, and
the experience was one where your eyes was immediately opened to things
that maybe you were blinded to."

Was it scary?

"Everything at first is scary, it's life experience you know and brings

How much does he smoke a day?

"I do not treat herb like a cigarette smoker," he replied with disdain. "I
smoke herb on a meditative vibe. It's a spiritual thing to me, yuh know
whah ah mean? When I meditate or I'm doing something that involves a lot
of concentration I would take a joint periodically, to calm myself and get
myself on the same wavelength as what I'm working on synchronise, so to

Does he think it should be legalised?

"It's already being legalised all across the world, secretly, covertly,
and it's legalisation and distribution process is being streamlined to a
selected few. So this is already in the making."

But what about young boys lighting up?

"In legalisation, there are rules and laws. Just like minors cannot freely
approach and go and buy alcohol and cigarette, which is much more
dangerous, then if one does not reach a certain age limit, then one
shouldn't have access to it."

"But you had access at 14."

"Where I'm from is different. I have a different culture. I have a
different upbringing. That doesn't say that you who are affluent and able
to live your life in a different way should follow the way I live my

How important is ganja to Jamaica?

"Ganja can be a very important source of our economic earnings, if taken
and used in the proper manner. We can legalise it in many forms. We can
legalise it in the form of hemp, and be very productive. While the outside
market and major conglomerates have been using hemp and making an industry
of hemp, we, who are capable of growing the highest form of hemp known to
the outside world, haven't. We can't remove the veil from our eyes to
capitalise on this vast amount of natural resources which we can produce
just like that."

He wasn't saying anything new. In fact he was echoing the words of a task
force set up by his own government to decide once and for all, how to deal
with ganja in Jamaica.

The Ganja Commission, as it's known, submitted its report two years ago to
Parliament. It not only recommended that Jamaicans be allowed to smoke in
the privacy of their homes, but that a Cannabis Research Agency be set up
to coordinate research into all aspects of cannabis, to ensure that
"Jamaica is not be left behind" in the growing medicinal market.

"The Catholic Church, the Council of Churches, the Medical Association of
Jamaica, the legal fraternity-in our meetings across the country with
various stakeholders there was an overwhelming support for the use of
marijuana in your private space, in your home, of small quantities for
your own use; for smoking, for medicinal use, because of the imbedded
cultural practices that we have in Jamaica," says Anthony Freckleton, who
served on the body.

But not even support from the Church can persuade the Jamaican government
to take such a big step and cross Uncle Sam.

"Over the years, several governments have been doing a balancing
act-walking a tightrope between the people who desire it and our powerful
North American neighbour, the United States," said attorney Michael Lorne.

"Most governments, not wanting to lose aid and all the benefits of
co-operating with our neighbour, have been trying to side-step the main
issue, but now I don't think that any government can continue to do that;
it is much too strong a feeling, a fervour, an agitation," he said.

"Even the United Kingdom, former owner and lawmaker of Jamaica, has freed
up the weed. Far too much police time has been wasted needlessly on
prosecuting people for smoking weed, the British government says. In fact,
from this month, marijuana is to be reclassified as a Class-C drug-putting
it in the same category as tranquilisers or steroids. In the First World,
the "evil weed", for which hundreds of thousands have been jailed around
the world, is now on par with Prozac. But cheaper.

Meanwhile, in the Third World, where even Vision 2020 is short-sighted,
smoking ganja still means doing time in filthy, overcrowded prison cells
for our citizens-jobless youths and reggae stars alike.

Author: Nazma Muller
Source: Trinidad Express
Contact: express@trinidadexpress.com
Website: Breaking News, Politics, Sports, Entertainment, Carnival, Video, Weather and More: Trinidad Express and TrinidadExpress.com
Pubdate: Sunday, January 4, 2004