Long dreadlocks nimbly dangle from his back as Dr. Machel Emanuel clarifies everything about how the leaf of legend, the plant that was smoked by the authors of The Wailers – Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailers.
This pipe long for each self-regarding ganja devotee is getting to be reality again on account of the green gifts of a researcher in Jamaica. The cannabis plant is the thing that picked up Jamaica its scandalous notoriety as the place where there is the Rastafarian, a Canaan, Eldorado for the army of cannabis smokers the world over.
“In the 50s, 60s, 70s, Jamaica was known for its landrace cultivar which definitely gave Jamaica that international reputation,” the rasta doctor explained, dreadlocks hanging down his back.
The plant is adapted to its environment and with “unique growing characteristics based on its flower, on the smell, on the flavour, even on the euphoria” it delivers to those who consume it, he said.
Landrace cultivar grew naturally across the fields of the Caribbean island before human intervention wiped it off its face. The US war on drugs in the 1980s affected its survival, landrace cannabis was easily spotted because of its height and destroyed, and cultivation of the plant was abandoned. Over time, easier-to-hide hybrids (not as pure as the natural plant) replaced the landrace cultivars.
Enter Dr Emanuel. The 35-year-old from Dominique has grown cannabis since 2001, moving to Jamaica in 2007 to pursue his studies. His doctorate is in biology, with a speciality in horticulture and the adaptation of plants to climate.
In his lab where most of the work to recover the plant is undertaken, the magnificent images of Emperor Haile Selassie hang from the walls of his lab – an icon who is considered to be a Messiah in Rastafarian circles.
The doctor himself is a lover of ganja himself which he does not smoke but rather consumes by means of vaporization or aromatherapy.
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 Dominica, in pursuit of Rastafarians living in the countryside and still cultivating what is left of these plants.
The tales of his journey sound very much like tales of Indiana Jones in the search of earth’s lost treasures. The doctor recalls taking a six-hour hike to find a Rastaman living on a mountain who “hadn’t been really been in contact with the civilization in the last 40 years. It was not an effort in vain as he got the prize, he went out searching for, the precious seed.
His research hasn’t been just out of love for horticulture. 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 US states.
“There is a nostalgia value that could be added based on marketing applications,” Emanuel says. “Jamaica’s reputation was basically built on these plants.”
He suggests Jamaica take the lead in establishing a geographical indicator for its home-grown cannabis “just like Champagne in France.”
There has already been a response to his marketing in the growing cannabis market. Companies and individuals are already knocking on his door, drawn by the savoury aroma of ganja, he says.
The scientist has made considerations about the intellectual property rights surrounding the landrace cannabis. These include the credits for the university which has supported the research over the past years.
Most important of all, are the farmers who have worked over the past decades to preserve the plant from extinction.
The doctor is guided by the Rastafarian faith and belief in equality and wants more equitable “fair trade” conditions for producers in developing countries. It is a noble consideration considering how producers of commodities such as coffee in developing countries have suffered at the expense of large multinational corporates.
“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.”