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How the Cold War Killed Cannabis as We Knew It

The armed men may have looked dangerous, but the visitor knew better. The men with the guns held them not as threat but as defense, defense against a world that had shown them time and again they needed one. Besides, the Good Doctor came to the ganja fields as a friend, with a very simple proposition: Allow access to your cannabis crop for examination and the Doctor will improve your yield and make you more money. He did not want money for his services, nor did he want any of the crop—a grower for 20 years, he had no issue cultivating and consuming his own. He was here for the ghosts.

Peppered among the rows of sweet, citrusy plants were the fluffy buds his forerunners had hacked and trimmed, cured and smoked. Ganja was the glue of the working class in the West Indies starting in the middle of the 19th century, when the British shipped an influx of Indian indentured workers to Jamaica as replacements for slave labor once the practice was outlawed. The West Africans who had been forced there by the British had already brought some of the world’s finest landrace cannabis—cannabis that naturally occurs in the environment, not bred by humans—from along the equator in Africa’s lush fields. When the Indian, and later the Chinese indentured workers arrived with their dense, sticky flowers from the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain range, the plant became the cohesion of Jamaican culture.

Despite Jamaica’s global reputation, local scientists like Dr. Machel Emanuel were haunted by the knowledge that the plants growing today on the hidden mountainside trails weren’t the same plants his ancestors smoked. 

Cannabis is dioecious, so if a male plant from the Netherlands spends time near a female plant in Jamaica, the resulting seeds will yield something entirely new. The white men who had been traveling to the West Indies kept bringing their inferior crops to corrupt what had already been thriving for centuries. Over time, the plants started to look different than they used to; smell differently and carry effects that underwhelmed the indigenous cannabis users of the West Indies. 

After the Americans arrived with their helicopters and herbicidal warfare, poisoning water supplies and slaughtering farmers, the remaining landrace plants started to disappear from the countryside. Fearing they’d be the next to die or lose their livelihoods, ganja farmers adopted hybridized European plants that had higher yields, shorter grow cycles, and, most importantly when hiding from a helicopter, only grew less than half the height. 

But somewhere survived the original cannabis of this island, those plants that had not been bred, purposely or accidentally, to be more profitable or less conspicuous. The plants that had not been burned by the Americans trying to deny their real or imagined enemies in Moscow or Kingston the financial benefits. 

Dr. Emanuel had traveled to these fields specifically in search of these living fossils.

Read entire article at Defector