On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon I make a sojourn to Grafton Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, the musical birth place of many of Jamaica’s biggest hits, and a studio that legendary music producer Mikey Bennett (known for co-writing and producing Shabba Ranks’ Mr Loverman) built from the ground up. The studio is a remnant of its past and is currently being refurbished, but my visit here was not music related. I came here to speak with Bennett’s fluid, wise, and eccentric 26-year old son T’Jean, or Benji as he likes to be called; a name that ties him always to his Rastafarian religion due to the fact that his birthday is in March he is a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin. Benji farms and grows marijuana in Jamaica; an island informally known as the weed capital of the world and one that has recently made steps to decriminalize marijuana; though the pace is sluggish. Our conversation ricochets from planting weed to morality and expanding consciousness - though the two somewhat interloop rather than work antagonistically in Benji’s eyes. Catch our conversation below:
DD: How did you get into smoking weed?
TB: Well, I started off smoking weed when I was 21. The first day I smoked it was totally random. My best friend brought a spliff and left it on top of a table where there was a mirror above. Honestly, I just started smoking the spliff to kind of look at myself doing it; just for fun, like I wanted to look at myself with the smoke coming out of my mouth. It wasn’t to get high or anything, but I did get high. I was high for the entire day and that was that.
DD: How long after that did you start planting?
TB: After this initial session I formed a habit of weed smoking. I really did it to be self-sufficient. I started to plant the herb myself and what would happen is that I kept trying to find the highest grade that they would sell but at that time it was just to smoke. I also needed to maintain a habit so I started to sell the weed I planted but only at a more expensive rate which was $1,000 JMD ($10 USD) compared to the regular small quantity $100 JMD ($1 USD) bags that they would sell at the corner shops. So, I didn’t really know what the future of it would be, but I knew I needed to maintain my habit. During my experimentation with planting I also started to buy and sell weed from the country side of Jamaica (usually where all the weed fields are), and I would make double what I invested by selling it back when I came to Kingston. In-between that time my personal plants were not that successful because I didn’t do a lot of research with getting the plants to the best possible harvest. I just thought you could just put seeds in the soil and they would just grow but weed is a delicate plant, like a baby, it needs your time, energy and care from day to day. If you neglect the plant for a day, a caterpillar can just eat down your entire crop.
DD: What kind of weed would you grow?
TB: Well firstly, I didn’t understand the difference between a male plant and a female plant. I was trying to plant them and I just kept getting a lot of seeds. So, I took a step back and started to read up on it. I read about it and realized the difference between male plants and female plants and how you would need to pullout the males if you didn’t want any seeds. So I planted a second batch and when that batch grew I realized that it was better than anything I’ve ever bought before. So I started calling it Homegrown weed without even realizing that this was what people demanded in the streets. So musicians and the artists here wanted this more than any other bulk weed people would buy by pound because it was grown in my yard in a small quantity under specialized supervision, and it was scarce. Nowadays, I hardly sell weed anymore because of the demand, I sell to a few people but I usually barter it with other strains from other people because it becomes a priceless commodity. I always try to keep a certain amount growing for my own supply.
DD: What about the particular strains you grow?
TB: After that first batch I started to study particular strains and monitor the type of weed I would get as a result. I never used to believe that the seeds made a difference in the batch but it does. I used to buy weed from this guy in Orange Hill, Jamaica. He blended two strains together called seven star and blueberry crush, so it’s like a purple strain. I always planted that strain and any other really high strain that I would come into contact with. By the way, I need a spliff to smoke right now. Excuse me while I light my spliff.
TB: People used to trust my harvest so they would bring seeds from the US and give me to plant. I would plant strains like this so people would come back to smoke them once the plant would bear.
DD: Do you have a favorite strain based on your experience with growing?
TB: Well, I think any strain where the plant is really purple would be my favorite or you have some strains of weed that resemble cheese and have a hairy texture. Any one of those. I don't really like to have a body high so much, I prefer a head high. I like it when my heavens much busier than my body.
DD: What do you think about the steps toward the legalization of Ganja in Jamaica right now?
TB: Legalize for who?
DD: Legalization for everybody…
TB: Well that's what they say, but when the event comes lets really see who will profit. To be honest with you I care less about the law right now. I think the government just resorted to doing this because they've realized they cant stop anybody in Jamaica from planting weed. So, whenever they free up these laws I don't even know if the average man will even benefit from them versus like the big corporations. They probably have plans of commercial dispensaries and so on but how much will the small Jamaican seller benefit? For me, I will never stop planting weed. You cannot convince me that planting something is illegal. No one can tell me that some thing I plant in the earth that God made is illegal. So morally, in myself I don't feel like I’m doing anything wrong, but I hope it works that the small man can make a profit even if the law becomes official. Even the law thats in place right now, the police don't even really know what it means. They just put the constitution in place to make it official. But, nobody really gets locked up for a spliff or any amount of marijuana unless its a ridiculous amount that looks like your going to sell it, so thats why everybody flies to Jamaica to smoke here because people are already under the impression that its legal here. So I would encourage everybody to plant, I would even encourage you to plant and I can teach you.
DD: Dope, I would love to learn.
DD: Ok you talked about being “above the law”, tell me about the relationship between planting/smoking weed and being above the law.
TB: Well my faith has everything to do with me being above the law. I work with grace. As you can see a man’s preference can be that alcohol is legal yet weed is illegal. Alright, well if you want to say that then that is your business, but you have to leave me with my free will to make it legal to me because I smoke it and it has never been a harm to me. I would never sell cocaine or cigarettes. I would never sell something processed. So thats what I’m trying to say, I don't need the law because I have morals. I have my own individual values due to my faith.
TB: Also, weed opens up your mind more than being sober. Even in my experience with reading the bible and being high I find there are things that reveal themselves more to me in this state. It’s just like music, when your high and your creating, your not overthinking anything, things just flow naturally because of the weed. Don’t get me wrong, weed can be abused but if you use it in accordance with faith and spirituality you can definitely get more value from it. It causes you to look inwards.
TB: The reason some people get paranoid when they smoke weed is because they don't know themselves. Some people don’t know how to be alone, they don’t meditate or anything, they are not really comfortable with their own thoughts. So for me with planting weed, I think it brings you back to the root of things. I think a man that plants is always going to appreciate the earth and the fullness thereof. So even when I smoke I allow my mind to be endless in terms of imagination and consciousness because I know something as simple as a seed can bloom into something so great. None can really explain why it is what it is. They can tell you about THC and all that but they cant tell you where all that stuff comes from but the creator shows that he made these herbs for us. Everything is spiritually tied.