Skunk Magazine Helps Bring Canadian Activists to Negril
By Ted Smith
Jamaica has a natural romanticism that is undeniable. Long before the songs of Bob Marley drifted through the countryside and around the world, the beauty of this paradise attracted others to its shores. Unfortunately, politics and greed have crippled what should be a vibrant country.
Ironically, cannabis, or ganga as it is known locally, has been a critical economic contributor to Jamaica over the last few desperate decades. Since a socialist government scared away the wealthy and middle-class in the 1970s, there has been little investment in the country. Tourists prefer countries with less violence, and for a long time, headlines dominated by gang murders ensured the country would go nowhere fast.
In this climate, cannabis flourished.
So when Gayle got her family inheritance a few years ago, that was where she wanted to go. Various problems kept it from happening until this year. Then in Jan. an email was sent out by John Vergados, the owner of Skunk magazine, inviting a bunch of Canadian activists to his newly purchased motel, Pure Resort, in Negril, Jamaica for a week-long retreat and brainstorming session.
The timing could not have been better. Though Gayle and I had to miss the first half of the week, we were there for the weekend, when the majority of activists were there, and got to enjoy their company for a few days. Then we got a full week to discover the island for ourselves. There were many highlights.
It was quite a crew down there. Leading the parade were Mark “Kush” and Remo, also known as Urban Grower. These guys were super-excited to be there, filming all sorts of activities, including a video of Gayle cooking in the kitchen, as soon as we got there. You can find their videos at the links at the end of the article, along with a video we made of our trip.
Other prominent activists there included lawyer John Conroy, Lisa “Mommakind” Kirkman, Sita from Green Harvest, Tracy Curly, Enrico Bouchard, Tim Selenski, Rielle Capler, (though we barely got to see her) Kat Murphy, Jocelyn Kikazglaz, and Debbie Stultz-Giffin, who managed to get a women’s center she volunteers at to pay for the flight. It was a small, but fun, caring group of people.
For several reasons, there was not a schedule for the gathering, but a few nights, we did get together after supper and talk about our work. This gave us a chance to become familiar with each other, promote a few campaigns, and thoroughly discuss things like the new regulations and other side projects that are still unknown to the public. John, and Skunk magazine, generously donated free room, food, and herb to the guests, making it easy to hang out by the pool and restaurant between adventures.
As soon as we arrived we bought a half-pound of herb for $80. Well, to say it was a full half-pound is a stretch, partly because it was so wet that it was likely just cut down the day before we bought it. It was also still on the stock, with the bag consisting of mostly foot-long stalks with a few buds clinging to them. The weather was so humid that it was hard to dry, even when leaving it out on paper. It was only when we had a nice sunny morning and we put it directly out into the light that it actually dried out.
It was full of seed, too. That was a bonus to us, as we do not eat meat, and we got to eat a lot of fresh cannabis seed, something we cannot get here in Canada. It was not the quality of the herb that was outstanding, but the freedom to use it. We could have found better herb, but we did not want to spend our time focusing on that. We had other plans.
Pure Resort was awesome. To start with, the hotel has bedsheets with pot leaf patterns all over them, making us feel at home. We even had a kitchen in our room, so Gayle got to cook cannabis corncakes right away. We also got to cook our own food, most nights. We could smoke in the room or on the patio without concern that anyone would be upset, often leaving the rolling tray lying out on the patio for hours. The barkeeps on the beach seemed to have no problem with us smoking joints by the tables as they served us drinks.
Not all of Jamaica is that pot-friendly. Negril is a special place, where all of the freaks and hippies went when the major cities were chaotic.
We got a taste of that on the first night there. Mark got backstage passes for a big party being thrown for Easter weekend. We arrived at 2 a.m. and left after 5 a.m., when there were still over 6,000 people enjoying the show. No musicians played instruments. The entire show was singers playing very short samples of their songs, with DJs helping in the background. The crowd had fog horns, roman candles, and lit hair spray cans to add to the show. A vendor was walking around with papers, lighters and pre-weighed bags of pot. We were smoking herb within 10 feet of uniformed police officers, who were only interested in crowd control.
There are people everywhere offering to sell cannabis, especially if you look like a toker, but you need to be careful who to deal with. If you buy on the beach, you will pay top dollar and not get great herb. Hustlers are everywhere. The most aggressive are the least trustworthy, and the people you can trust are a little harder to seek out, but they are there. Good herb is available, but can take a bit of time and luck to find. However, you are not likely to get robbed, unless you put yourself into a dumb situation. As the locals make their money from tourists, and cannot afford to ruin that by getting a bad reputation.
Be careful about taking anything from someone, even if they say it is free. Few things in Jamaica are actually free. Sunshine is. Pot is not. Soon after you accept a small bit of herb to try, you will get told about the guy’s kids and how hard it is to feed them all. You can get a sample for a few dollars but it might not be what you are getting later. It is almost better to buy off people who are not right away trying to hustle you. Approaching friendly-looking, laid-back people is a safe, easy way to score.
Generally speaking, Jamaicans are concerned about their image to the world, realizing their country has a negative reputation. As a result, most are friendly, offering help and making sure you are okay everywhere you go. One day, we even took a cab to a nature sanctuary, and walked back through a small village to town. It was a humbling experience to see how little these people have, living in small, run-down shacks, and yet their warm spirit shone from their eyes. Bright colours adorned the tiniest homes and shops, packed together along the road.
One of those Jamaicans is our friend Kahleb. He is a Rastafarian that Lisa connected with because he invented a very cool natural vaporizer. He has taken a fruit called a calabash, and emptied it to make a bong He then put a piece of bamboo in it for a stem, and created a round ceramic cylinder bowl that uses charcoal at the top. You simply inhale through the fruit, and the heated air from the charcoal vaporizes the herb inside.
Kahleb went with us on our first big day trip, which of course was to visit Bob Marley’s home and mausoleum. It was the most humbling experience of my life. Bob was born in the mountains, far from the hustle and bustle of the beaches and cities. The entrenched poverty of the area was evident on the faces of the poor children, who were begging on the road, where the pavement was so broken, cars had to slow right down to pass.
Bob and his mom are buried on the hill on the property they lived on, as is the custom there. You are allowed to hang out in a small shack that Bob stayed in, and shown a rock upon which he would sit or lay down, resting his head upon it. There is even a cannabis plant in a small garden built just for it, right behind where Bob rests.
We also had a chance to go to see Peter Tosh’s mausoleum. Even more incredible was getting to meet his 95-year-old blind mother, who actually got out of bed for us. She loves meeting everyone who comes to the family property, which is not nearly as commercial as what has been built around Bob’s. When I presented a Hempology 101 textbook and said I wanted to give it to the family, I also had the honour of meeting Dave, one of Peter’s sons.
Now, I should caution that much of Jamaica is not herb-friendly, and that cannabis is still illegal to possess, grow, and sell, except for some rights being established by Rastafarians. Even at Bob’s Mausoleum, high in the mountains, there were signs in the parking lot that smoking ganga was not allowed, yet we could light up inside the building or during the tour, and the place for a plant to grow behind his resting place looks permanent.
When driving with herb, you need to be careful not to smoke in the vehicle near town or on major roads, as the police can be ruthless to drivers. Do not give them a reason to hassle you. Smoking on the sidewalk of towns can also be risky. It is better to smoke on private property than in public, with some exceptions, like the beaches in Negril.
Ultimately, this might have been the best two weeks of my life. Every minute, I was surrounded by cannabis, hanging out with other Canadian activists, enjoying the beauty of the country, meeting all sorts of interesting people, and laughing with Gayle. The slideshow video we made shows some of the highlights, but it is only a glimpse. You have to see Jamaica for yourself.
Check out theses Youtube channels to see videos of the trip as well as other interesting things: