From smooth reggae rhythms to a constant coolness in its counterculture appeal, the Rastafarian religion is better known for its relationship with cannabis than other elements of its island-infused doctrine. With humble roots in rural Jamaica quickly spreading to the far reaches of the world, Rasta culture is alive and well to this day. Cannabis has been an integral aspect for practitioners of this movement since its inception.
Rastafarianism began to garner international attention in the 1970s with the rise of prominent Jamaican musicians like Bob Marley who touted it’s messaging while advocating cannabis use. The roots of the religion date back much farther into the 1930s, with a distinctive interpretation of the Bible recognizing the Emperor of Ethiopia, Halie Selassie, as a reincarnated version of the Christian savior. The return of Jah, Selassie’s Rasta title, instilled hope for Jamaican people under British colonialism. Afrocentric dogma is at the heart of the religion and still empowers Rasta today.
Cannabis holds spiritual and ritualistic importance within the religion and its daily use is a sacrament and meditation for followers of the faith. A central tenet of Rastafarianism is communal gatherings known as Groundings. These gatherings are often hosted by an elder within a local group of followers and serves as an opportunity for reflection, discussion, and support. Groundings incorporate cannabis as a way to pursue communal connection and achieve spiritual union to the faith.
Also integral to Rastafarians is a dedication to health and wellbeing, a practice known as Ital. Short for vital, this practice incorporates a healthy diet with an avoidance of intoxicants such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Cannabis is considered a natural substance and its use is encouraged to promote physical wellbeing and help individual reach toward enlightenment and religious expression.
Several aspects of the faith therefore support regular cannabis use, which are as an important and fundamental to Rasta as communion to Catholics or daily prayers to Muslims. Alive and thriving in modern times, Rastafarianism is popular and growing with both practitioners of the religion and cannabis supporters alike. Gatherings and festivals such as the Stepping High Festival in Jamaica aim to educate, celebrate, and spread the beliefs and positive nature at the heart of the Rasta religion and show that, as the pro-cannabis movement spreads around the globe, much can be learned about treating the plant as a sacred gift.
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- Edmonds EB. Rastafari: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press; 2012.