There are many people no longer with us whose cannabis advocacy continues as part of their legacy. One of these people is Peter Tosh, a founding member of the band The Wailers and a reggae trailblazer. Often spoken about with fellow star (and marijuana maven) Bob Marley, Tosh found success both with the Wailers and as a solo artist.
The Early Years of Peter Tosh
Per the Biography Channel, Peter Tosh was born in Jamaica on October 19, 1944 and raised by his aunt. He began to sing and play guitar at an early age; he also began listening to American radio stations. One of his first jobs involved selling sugarcane juice, an endeavor that introduced him to Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer.
After developing their talents and consulting with a voice teacher, they formed The Wailers in 1962
At first, they were a cover band playing pop hits from the US. But as their popularity boomed, their style changed: they became more rhythmic and reggae-focused. Overall, they sold more than 250 million albums and were big in Europe: in England, they had 20 chart hits (including seven that charted in the top ten).
Tosh left The Wailers in 1973 for a solo career. He released his first album – “Legalize It” – in 1976 and another – “Equal Rights” – the next year. His albums shared two common themes: they spoke of support for the Rastafari religion (to which he’d converted) and they backed cannabis. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, members of the Rolling Stones, signed Tosh to their label in 1978 and collaborated with him on several songs. This collaboration introduced him to broader audiences.
If the cannabis movement had a theme song, “Legalize It” would be a viable candidate. With lyrics that include,
“Singers smoke it and players of instrument, too. Legalize it, yeah yeah. That’s the best thing you can do. Doctors smoke it. Nurses smoke it. Judges smoke it. Even lawyer, too”
it speaks of weed’s popularity. The song was banned when it was first released. This, however, backfired and made Tosh even more endearing to his fans. “Legalize It” exemplified Tosh’s stance that prosecution for marijuana use was unjust. He addressed, specifically, medical marijuana and included lyrics about the many maladies cannabis has the potential to help. Tosh was ahead of his time in many ways and saw the potential in the legal movement before others did. In 1978, he told New Musical Express, a British music journalism magazine, that “herb will become like cigarettes.” It was a prediction that’s proving true, even if it took nearly forty years for action. In Jamaica, cannabis remains technically illegal (it has been since 1913), but people using it are generally given a pass. It was decriminalized in 2015 – people won’t be saddled with a criminal record as long as they possess under two ounces. More progressive laws are likely in the near future.
A Career Cut Short
Tosh died at the age of 42, the second member of The Wailers to die young (Bob Marley died in 1981 at the age of 36 of acral lentiginous melanoma). After traveling back to Jamaica (as he often did to visit loved ones), Tosh was shot during a home invasion on September 11, 1987. According to the Jamaica Observer, three gunmen barged into Tosh’s house one evening while he entertained friends. They demanded that Tosh and his guests hand over all US currency. This was a key factor in the motive - Tosh’s wife testified that Tosh had recently been paid in US dollars after a business trip to the states (making it possible that the gunmen were privy to this information). Tosh told the gunmen that he had no money and he was knocked unconscious. The gunmen took everyone’s jewelry before the gun shots; Marlene Brown, Tosh’s common-in-law wife, and a few others survived but Tosh and two of his friends were killed. Brown was shot in the head, but lived to be the trial’s star witness. Dennis Lobban, the alleged shooter, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life.
Peter Tosh’s Legacy
While fans and fellow musicians mourned Tosh’s early demise, they celebrated his legacy and remembered him for his talent and his unyielding beliefs (including the legalization of marijuana). Andrew Tosh followed his father’s career and found fame as a reggae artist. He – as well as other family members – often celebrate Tosh’s life through concerts and commemorative events. In November of 2016, they opened a museum dedicated to him: The Peter Tosh Museum located in New Kingston, Jamaica. Months earlier, in April, they launched Peter Tosh 420, a company whose mission is to
“organically grow the Peter Tosh legacy by providing quality cannabis products for medicinal power, spiritual enlightenment, and recreational enjoyment.”
It was started by Tosh’s daughter, Niambe McIntosh, who has more in mind than finances. McIntosh was quoted in a company press release as saying, “This venture is not just about business. It’s about spreading my father’s message of equal rights and justice, while bringing what he believed was a sacred herb to the world and doing good deeds in the process.” A portion of every sale goes to the Peter Tosh Foundation, an organization that helps fund several social justice projects including childhood education, equal rights, and universal marijuana legalization. The foundation partners with Brian Latture (a veteran in the entertainment industry) and Steven Trent of Lizada Capital (an investment company that focuses on cannabis investments).
Peter Tosh Day
As good smokers know, April 20th is a date synonymous with marijuana, a number that went down in cannabis lore when a group of high school students began referring to weed as “420.” But April 20th is also the International Peter Tosh Day (a day that officially began back in 2015). The day honor’s Tosh’s life with a special focus on his never-ending hope that people would someday realize the goodness of ganja and have access to it at will.