Beyond  /  Longread

The Cold War Killed Cannabis As We Knew It. Can It Rise Again?

Somewhere in Jamaica survive the original cannabis strains that were not burned by American agents or bred to be more profitable.

After the Americans arrived with their helicopters and herbicidal warfare, poisoning water supplies and slaughtering farmers, the remaining landrace plants started to disappear from the countryside. Fearing they’d be the next to die or lose their livelihoods, ganja farmers adopted hybridized European plants that had higher yields, shorter grow cycles, and, most importantly when hiding from a helicopter, only grew less than half the height. 

But somewhere survived the original cannabis of this island, those plants that had not been bred, purposely or accidentally, to be more profitable or less conspicuous. The plants that had not been burned by the Americans trying to deny their real or imagined enemies in Moscow or Kingston the financial benefits. 

Dr. Emanuel had traveled to these fields specifically in search of these living fossils.

He leaned in and breathed in the aromas, the plant’s natural defense system against predators and a boon for the humans who consume it, and sought out the familiar piney, sweet scent of the Lambsbread of his childhood, that strain smoked and popularized by Bob Marley before it disappeared soon after the 1980s. 

America fought a war here. The Rastafari were the enemy because of the ganja. It was the ganja that embarrassed the Americans and the British before them, the plant that grew so bountifully that the farmers could trade it for guns to arm the people who fought for their island, against the people who had come to exploit it. Between 1975 and the present day, the country of Jamaica has seen immense population growth. An island of about 2 million people in 1975 holds nearly 3 million today. And yet during that time period, the Rastafari have declined in volume by tens of thousands. There are fewer of them now than there were then, despite an overall population growth of 50 percent. Migration patterns come and go, and it’s common to reduce the proportion of an ethnicity or group of people. But the volume should not reduce. The volume only reduces when something happens. When there is something to flee, or something that got you before you could flee. 

These stories are not hard to find, now. But the Americans up north do not ask, because they don’t know. Nobody in America bothered to second-guess the reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post about the violence perpetrated by the dreadlocked men. Nobody ever bothered to ask how the Rastafari became public enemy number one in the War on Drugs.

So there Dr. Emanuel stood, face-to-flower with a nine-foot tall cannabinoid time capsule, preserved and hidden away from the men who seemed hellbent on destroying it. After some potency tests and a short conversation with the farmers, the Good Doctor retrieved the seeds and thanked them before starting the treacherous hike home.