marijuana leafBrace yourself. I’m about to say something that is quite unpopular. So here it goes – I’m not a huge fan of the herb. There, I said it. It’s definitely about the control freak in me, but that’s a tangential story.

It’s not that I am morally against it – people can ingest, digest, and smoke whatever they want to. And yes, I do think it should be legalized. Not because it’s the best thing that’s happened to civilization, but because I don’t really want my tax dollars going towards locking up potheads or anyone else involved in making a living from the crop.

But here’s the thing – in this age of medicinal marijuana, cannabis clubs, and boutique weed, it’s everywhere. And for us reggae music lovers, it always has been. I’ve been working in the reggae industry for 13+ years, and I’m tired of coming home from an indoor show smelling like the crud at the bottom of a pipe. I’m tired of the weed gas chamber that is my luggage upon my return trips from Jamaica, thanks to days spent in smoked-out cars. I’m tired of people bumping into me at shows because of their impaired sense of personal space. And I’m tired that weed’s presence seeps both blatantly and discreetly into all sorts of  lyrics. If we as a society put as much energy as we put into the pot industry into curing HIV, I’m fairly sure we’d have a cure by now. And no, the fact that marijuana is a giant industry and there is lots of money to be made is not lost on me.

“But, Laura, it’s a plant. It’s natural and grows from the earth.” Well, yes, it is. And I, of all people, am for natural, organic, and whole. But do we eat those mealy pyracantha berries that intoxicate birds? No, I think not. Do we eat poisonous mushrooms? Poison oak? Not on purpose. So is everything that comes from the ground clear for human consumption? I’d say no.

stoner with bong

Just one example of ganja's effects

Smoking herb is almost a rite of passage in high school or college like the acquisition of Bob Marley’s “Legend” CD, but if you’re over 30 and still smoking all of the time, there might be a problem. Pot addiction is a serious thing. Have you ever seen someone seriously addicted to weed? It’s not a pretty sight. On the tamer side, personal hygiene goes out the window, motivation wanes or dies completely, and basic observations become epiphanies, which, for lack of a better word sound, well,  outright stupid. For example, “Gasp – that cloud looks like my dog!”

But on the more serious side of addiction, people lose jobs, relationships, housing, children; they may go in and out of jail for related issues, and emotionally, people can become fraught with paranoia and often begin taking other drugs to mediate some of the weed’s effects. And the sign of addiction is that despite all of the negative consequences one encounters, people continue to partake – which is why M.A. (Marijuana Anonymous) exists.

Okay, I can have all my judgments about the lifestyle, but here’s my real question: Is there a place for us non-smokers in the community? Will I ever get past the discomfort of passing up the pipe, joint, bong, or ganja cookie? Or get over the sheepishness of feeling “square,” or whatever the weed equivalent of “prude” is? I haven’t run the numbers or anything, but it feels like we sober ones are vastly outnumbered at reggae concerts and shows. When a fixture in the Reggae Rising press tent is the vaporizer, I have no doubt.

Ever since there’s been reggae (and I realize it’s a short history compared to other musical genres), it’s been associated with ganja. Reggae and weed, like Bonnie and Clyde. Batman and Robin. BFFs. Why? Because Bob Marley smoked? Because it’s a meditation lubricant? Because it used to be really taboo and Rastas pride themselves on living outside of the box? I’d really like some understanding around this.

Reggae music in and of itself is brilliant – it addresses social issues like racism, equality, overcoming the odds, being true to oneself, having faith, love, endorsing sustainable living, and much more. I can even get behind some, okay lots, of the raunchy dancehall tunes for what they are. But must we love weed to feel included in it all? Morgan Heritage sang, “You don’t haffi dread to be Rasta,” which is a nugget I hold onto, because it’s expressing that it’s what’s on the inside, or what’s in your heart, that counts. If I apply this adage to this particular issue, I come to the conclusion, “You don’t have to be high to be  enlightened.”

4/20 festival

Students at a University of Colorado 4/20 festival

I know there have to be others like me out there. In fact, it’s as refreshing as a ginger beer on a hot, muggy day when I meet an artist that doesn’t smoke, or one that looks around a large festival crowd and is shocked and awed, as I am, by people’s drug-induced states of abandon. I’m not saying not to smoke or to put away your hula hoops, hackey sacks, and hemp accessories; but I am saying please make space for those of us who choose not to.

Reggae music is one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I really would like the reggae, but please hold the weed.