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Why Did Reggae Musician Bob Marley Smoke Marijuana?

The iconic image of Reggae musician Bob Marley is a photograph of him smoking a large marijuana spliff. Why Marley smoked marijuana and what it meant to him and his music might not be what you think.

Bob Marley smoked marijuana because he practiced the Rastafarian religion, wherein the use of “ganja,” as it is called, is a holy sacrament. The word ganja is the Rastafarian term derived from the ancient Sanskrit language for marijuana, which itself is a Spanish word for cannabis.

Marley, Marijuana, and Religion

One feature of Rastafarianism that is often misrepresented is the ritual use of marijuana. Pious Rastas do not and should not use marijuana recreationally; instead, it is reserved for religious and medicinal purposes. Some Rastafarians do not use it at all. When they do use marijuana, the purpose is to aid in meditation and perhaps help the user achieve greater mystical insight into the nature of the universe.

Marley converted to Rastafarianism from Christianity in the mid-1960s, well before he achieved any international fame as a reggae musician. His conversion coincided with the conversions of thousands of his fellow Jamaicans of African descent, and as his fame grew, he began to stand as a symbol of both his culture and his religion.

Bob Marley did not use cannabis recreationally and did not see its use as a casual matter. He viewed marijuana as a holy rite, much as Catholics view Holy Communion or some Native Americans view the ceremonial usage of peyote. Viewing himself as a holy person (as do all Rastafarians), Marley strongly believed that marijuana opened up a spiritual door that allowed him to become the artist and poet he was.

Marley’s Career and Activism

Marley’s first singles were recorded in 1962, but in 1963 he founded a band that eventually became the Wailers. Although the band broke up in 1974, he continued to tour and record as Bob Marley and the Wailers. Prior to the breakup, two of the Wailers’ songs from the 1974 album “Burnin'” gathered cult followings in both the U.S. and Europe, “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Get Up, Stand Up.”

After the band broke up, Marley switched from the ska and rocksteady music styles to a new style that would become known as reggae. Marley’s first major hit song was 1975’s “No Woman, No Cry,” and that was followed by his album “Rastaman Vibration,” which made the Billboard Top 10 albums list.

In the late 1970s, Marley promoted peace and cultural understanding. He also acted as a cultural ambassador for the Jamaican people and the Rastafarian religion. Even decades after his death, he is revered as a Rastafarian prophet.

Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36. He was diagnosed with skin cancer in 1977, but because of religious objections, he refused amputation of a toe, a procedure that could have saved his life.

Bob Marley was often photographed with a marijuana spliff in his mouth, but he regarded its usage as an important religious rite.

The Real Reason Bob Marley is a Marijuana Icon

With February being the month we celebrate Bob Marley’s birthday – it got me thinking about his legacy and how his name and image is so easily associated with marijuana. Bob Marley and the Jamaican flag are two of the most iconic symbols in the cannabis community – most of the time portrayed together. College students hang posters of Bob in their dorm room, festivals celebrate his legacy with banners of him smoking a joint and reggae fans praise him in true Rastafarian fashion by wearing traditional garments and smoking “ganja.”

Everyone knows about Bob Marley’s musical influence and his love for marijuana, but does anyone know the real reason why Bob smoked weed?

When Bob Marley sparked up a joint, it was for a much greater purpose than to just relax and let go of stress – for Bob is was religious. Marley practiced the Rastafarian religion after converting from Christianity in the 1960’s. If you know the timeline of his musical influence, this religious switch happened before Bob Marley and the Wailers achieved their international fame for making amazing reggae music. His conversion from Christianity was not taken alone – thousands of his fellow Jamaicans also converted to practice Rastafarianism, creating a Rasta movement that cited Bob as one of the leaders.

This decision is what began to put Bob Marley in the spotlight as a religious influencer to his people and country. The connection between Rastafarianism and marijuana is that the religion views weed as a spiritual tool. The purpose of marijuana for Rastafarians is to assist in meditation and open further doors to potentially understand the universe.

The most surprising fact is that true ‘Rastas’ do not believe in using marijuana for recreational purposes.

That’s right, all those images you know of Bob smoking and looking like he’s lighting up for the fun of it – are really Bob practicing religious rituals (in his eyes). Marley made this clear himself – he viewed himself as a holy person that was able to be in touch with art and poetry through the medium of ganja because according to his religion, that was the purpose it gave to his people.

So, the next time “No Woman, No Cry” comes on or you see that infamous Bob Marley poster – remember his view on marijuana was much more than just a plant that freed his mind. Marijuana to Bob was religious, meaningful and the reason why he was able to write and create the timeless music we still love today.

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