It was the wee hours of Wednesday morning, April 18, and the sun had yet to rise. I was adrift in my subconscious, scrolling through the feelings and disjointed thoughts that never make it to the surface. I hardly remember anything I dreamt about, except that I was in Jamaica and watching a young, short-haired Bob Marley perform in an outdoor venue to a massive crowd of thrilled, reggae-loving fans. The scenery was lush and green, and voluminous white clouds filled the sky.
Nothing was out of the ordinary when I awoke later that morning. I got up, started working and proceeded as usual. Around 4 p.m. that day, however, I got a call saying Damian Marley was doing a meet and greet at 420 Central in Santa Ana that Friday, April 20. They asked if I’d be available for coverage and an interview. My jaw dropped.
When Bob Marley comes to you in a dream and then the opportunity to interview his son happens 12-hours later, there’s no choice but to make it happen—and acknowledge the universal forces at play.
April 20 is the equivalent to Black Friday in the cannabis world. Every dispensary hosts mini parties and massive sales to provide people with accouterments to properly celebrate the blessed day of herb. And 420 Central did just that. There were food trucks offering everything from tacos to sandwiches to kale wraps and other plant-based options. A DJ blended songs by Sublime, Steel Pulse, Soja, Slightly Stoopid and (of course) Damian Marley, giving the event punky reggae party vibes.
An old-school golden bus sat across the street giving attendees a place to kick up their feet, while others mingled inside the shop, sipped on tea and scoped out the display cases for “green-Friday” deals as they waited for Damian to arrive.
“Is he here yet?” a young man in Rasta colored Bob Marley shirt asked his friend, as they stood outside the dispensary.
“Yeah bro, let me just whip out my phone and call him real quick and see where he’s at.”
“Whatever dude. You need to smoke.”
Seniors, families, couples, aspiring artists, and musicians showed up to the event. At one point it was nearly impossible to navigate through the lobby because so many people were there. Thus, it only took seconds for the entire party to know Damian arrived. The entire energy of the store shifted when he walked in. Fans oozing with excitement lined up to meet him. One fan was overcome with such intense nerves she left. The anticipation of meeting the youngest member of reggae’s royal family almost made her sick.
“Don’t leave,” a man said to the anxious woman. “You’ll be so happy you stayed.”
“I literally can’t,” she said, “I’m about to hyperventilate.”
Wearing a light blue button-down and a black snapback hat, Damian puffs on a 1:1 CBD to THC joint given to him by the team at 420 Central. Earlier in the day, four cannabis-infused hemp blunts and four pre-roll joints awaited Damian in a trailer. About an hour-and-a-half later, most of them are gone—minus the one he’s puffing on. He exudes an aura of warmth, and a humble and earnest temperament. His majestic dreads scale the length of his body as we sit beside each other in the trailer.
Along with his latest album, Stony Hill—the name of the Kingston neighborhood in which he grew up—and the release of his new flower and oil line, Speak Life, Damian’s spent the majority of his musical career advocating for cannabis. But his music touches on more profound concepts than just getting high. He lays down cadenced lyrics capturing images of social injustices— a dark theme particularly prevalent in the American cannabis landscape. “To me, it goes without saying that the biggest benefit of the legalization movement thus far is that now you’re not automatically a criminal for using the plant,” he says. “It’s one less reason to be targeted.”
But as various forms of legalization penetrate the rigid legal system in the U.S., it’s easy to forget about those who are currently locked up in federal prisons for cannabis-related offenses. Although state jails in California have released people convicted of cannabis-related crimes, those in federal penitentiary do not benefit from the state-level laws. In other words, they’ll remain in jail until the laws around cannabis change. Moreover, the system targets people of color. Although it’s happening less now in states that have implemented medicinal and adult-use laws, there’s still a ton of work to be done, especially in anti-cannabis states.
“For me, in my day-to-day life, the reason I would have to constantly be aware of the presence of police is where herb is illegal,” Damian says, as he takes a drag of his joint. “In places where it’s legal, you don’t really have that issue as much anymore. Legalization is always going to be a positive because of the decriminalization of herb.”
Eloquent and precise, Damian mentions that the term ‘marijuana’ is sensitive, which is why he chooses to use the terms: “herb, cannabis or the plant.” His humanistic nature seeps from every sentence; from every pore. The type of injustice in cannabis he makes mention of, however, isn’t the aforementioned incarcerations in which we typically hear. Rather, his concern lies in the finances of legalization, and thus, the industry.
“There are families of farmers who’ve been growing herb for hundreds of years,” says Damian, referring specifically to cultivators in Jamaica. “They’ve been able to feed their families because of taking that risk. Now, many of them are getting muscled out because they are not experienced when it comes to paper pushing, getting permits, and becoming part of a system.”
He’s right—and this exact issue is also happening here in America. The pioneers of California’s cannabis movement are losing their businesses due to the insurmountable costs of getting permitted and keeping a business afloat in this new, legal era of cannabis; while big money investors are sliding in and taking ahold of the market.
“A lot of people who are now investing in cannabis years ago would have never been associated with herb,” Damian says. “That’s something that I’m really concerned about. Their intentions—they’re not good. Especially in Jamaica, now that it’s becoming legal no one who comes from the culture are the ones who have permits so far. That is very concerning to me.”
The San Francisco Examiner recently published a story on this unfortunate reality. “People who spent their lives either decrying weed or staying away because of its illegality are set to make fortunes while the people who created the industry and worked clandestinely for decades end up with crumbs,” Stuart Schuffman writes.
Additionally, the craze of legalization often clouds us of from remembering (and respecting) the roots of the cannabis movement: healing and relieving critically ill people from pain. First and foremost, Damian explains, cannabis is a medicine. Its psychoactive effects come secondary to its medicinal power. This, he says, is something we as a society need not forget.
“Of course I enjoy smoking recreationally and using it as a spiritual sacrament,” says Damian. “But the purpose of this plant is really to be used as a medicine and helping alleviate pain and various different illnesses. This aspect of the plant is very important to me because it can help everyone.”
Now that cannabis is gaining legality it’s enabled scientists to carry out research. It’s a massive step forward—one the cannabis community needs to keep advocating for. “People and advocates in my culture have always said that herb is the healing of the nation. It’s something that is written in [our] Bible and something that’s always been in our music. But now with the scientific proof and results showing promise of the medical benefits of the herb–it’s beautiful. It’s an important part of my mission: to highlight how herb can help humanity a part from just feeling good.”
Speak Life OG is the strain of his newest flower and oil line, and also what Damian smokes daily. The goal of this company is to provide people with the best product for healing, unity and—as his father used to promote—to elevate consciousness. Spiritually, Damian explains, cannabis puts us on a more sensitive, elevated wavelength allowing us to see, feel and perceive things on a transcended plane.
“One of the things my father said was that when we smoke herb we all feel the same way,” he says, as smoke rises from the corners of his lips. “That’s part of the reason why the system fights [legalization] because they don’t want us to feel the same way; because then we’ll be in unity and they don’t want to see us in unity. It’s perhaps not a wavelength they want us to be on together. You know what I’m saying?”
Indeed we do. The concept of control, suppression and power versus heightened consciousness–and the threat it poses to those in power– is a universal struggle. It always has been. Alas, people are waking up to this concept as the acceptance of cannabis is becoming more widespread. Thankfully, there’s a whole tribe of Marleys promoting the wise messages of their late father, who they’ll be celebrating this weekend at Kaya Fest in San Bernardino—the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley’s Kaya album.
“They say herb is a gateway drug to other drugs,” Damian says. “And it is a gateway drug—a gateway drug to enlightenment and higher consciousness. Not other drugs.”