- Dr Machel Emanuel, 35, is cultivating landrace cannabis in his lab in Kingston
- During the 1980s war on drugs it was easily recognizable and cultivation ceased
- But it had been the favourite of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailers
A Jamaican scientist is recreating a ‘supreme’ marijuana that was smoked by Bob Marley in the 1970s before it was wiped out the following decade during the American war on drugs.
Amid mangos, lychees and other jackfruit, Dr Machel Emanuel has planted a field of cannabis plants measuring dozens of square meters in his lab in the botanical garden of the Biology Department at the University of the West Indies in Kingston.
His specialty: landrace cannabis, which grew naturally in Jamaica before it disappeared as a result of human intervention.
Dr Machel A. Emanuel holds up potted cannabis plants in a green house at the University of the West Indies Mona campus in Kingston, Jamaica
The Jamaican scientist is recreating a ‘supreme’ type of marijuana smoked by Bob Marley himself in the 1970s
‘In the 50s, 60s, 70s, Jamaica was known for its landrace cultivar which definitely gave Jamaica that international reputation,’ the rasta doctor explained.
The plant is adapted to its environment and with ‘unique growing characteristics based on its flower, on the smell, on the flavor, even on the euphoria’ it delivers to those who consume it, he said.
Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailers – founding members of the celebrated reggae group The Wailers – used landrace cannabis, Dr Emanuel assures.
The reggae legends’ ganja, he says, would not have been as strong as modern, artificially created cannabis, which has higher levels of THC – the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient.
Dr Emanuel said the plant has ‘unique growing characteristics based on its flower, on the smell, on the flavor, even on the euphoria’ it delivers to those who consume it
The species of cannabis was all but destroyed by America’s war on drugs in the 1980s because it was so easy to spot, due to its height
But in the 1980s, during the US war on drugs, landrace cannabis was easily spotted because of its height and destroyed, and cultivation of the plant was abandoned.
Over time, easier-to-hide hybrids replaced the landrace cultivars.
Landrace cannabis had been the favourite of Bob Marley (pictured), Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailers
Dr Emanuel has grown cannabis since 2001, moving to Jamaica in 2007 to pursue his studies.
The 35-year-old from Dominique has a doctorate in biology, with a specialty in horticulture and the adaptation of plants to climate.
A lover of marijuana himself – which he doesn’t smoke but rather consumes by means of vaporization or aromatherapy – Dr Emanuel decided to recover the lost landrace varieties and reproduce them in his lab.
The quest wasn’t easy: grains of landrace had spread to the four corners of the Caribbean over the years.
His search led him to Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Dominique, in pursuit of Rastas living in the countryside and still cultivating what is left of these plants.
Dr Emanuel recalls finding a Rasta man living on a mountain who ‘hadn’t been really been in contact with the civilization in the last 40 years.
‘It was a six hours hike to get to him,’ he said. He returned with the rare landrace seed.
A greenhouse full of cannabis plants is seen at the University of the West Indies Mona campus in Kingston
Dr Emanuel’s search for surviving seeds took him all over the Caribbean and he spoke of hiking six hours to find a Rasta man living on a mountain who ‘hadn’t been really been in contact with the civilization in the last 40 years’
His research has been out of love for horticulture – but the scientist has also developed an entire marketing plan for the landrace cultivar.
The marketing material refers to a ‘pure’ and ancient herb, used by Bob Marley – a seductive pitch to cannabis lovers in countries and regions that have legalized its use, such as Canada and some American states.
‘There is a nostalgia value that could be added based on marketing applications,’ Dr Emanuel says. ‘Jamaica’s reputation was basically built on these plants.’
Dr Emanuel wants to market landrace cannabis as a ‘pure’ and ancient herb, used by Bob Marley in order to appeal to those in countries and regions that have legalized its use, such as Canada and some American states
He suggests Jamaica take the lead in establishing a geographical indicator for its home-grown cannabis ‘just like Champagne in France.’
Companies and individuals are already knocking on his door, he says. But the scientist is cautious, notably over intellectual property rights.
‘What kind of credits would there be for the university and for the farmers that have preserved those seeds?’ he asks.
In line with his Rastafarian beliefs, Dr Emanuel wants more equitable ‘fair trade’ conditions for producers in developing countries.
Dr Emanuel wants Jamaica to take the lead in establishing a geographical indicator for its home-grown cannabis ‘just like Champagne in France’
‘The consumer is willing to patronize products based on morals, ethics and a protocol in growing, organic or vegan,’ he says, highlighting the ‘natural connotations’ of his product.
‘There could be an economic advantage to growing these plants here,’ he says. ‘They are more resistant and grow more easily.’
Summing up his pitch, Emanuel jokes: ‘You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy weed.’