Don’t let Bob Marley’s ganja-loving ethos fool you: Jamaica’s legal relationship with cannabis is much more conservative than you might think. While certain parts of Jamaican society have a longstanding history with cannabis, especially for Rastafarians who use ganja as a religious sacrament, the nation is only just getting acclimated to its new medical marijuana program.
According to a study conducted at Writtle University College in England, Jamaica has been struggling to get it going. While more than 180,000 farmers are registered to grow traditional crops in Jamaica, only 25 have applied to cultivate ganja. The main obstacles stopping farmers from attempting to grow cannabis are the expensive licensing fees and other infrastructural hardships incorporated into the country’s medical program.
The study indicates that, because Jamaica’s medical marijuana program reflects those implemented by larger, more developed jurisdictions in North America, small farmers who struggle to adapt may continue to illegally sell ganja on the black market. This could undermine Jamaica’s potential in successfully implementing its medical program.
In trying to rebuff the country’s profuse reputation with regard to cannabis, Jamaican lawmakers have for a long time enforced strict prohibition and spent millions on public education — until they began to realize they could milk Jamaica’s reputation for economic benefit. In 2015, they decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis, and in 2016, passed a medical cannabis program that even allows tourists who have medical marijuana recommendations from other countries to use weed in Jamaica.
“Wellness tourism” wasn’t the only incentive in legalizing medical marijuana. The program was also seen as a way to increase employment, reduce expenditures on criminal justice, and support Rastafarian rights.
“The opportunity to change a troublesome issue into an income earner for farmers, processors, retailers, and the Jamaican government is an opportunity that must not be missed by too much or too little control and must be seen as a technical, as well as a political and economic challenge,” says Dr. Chris Bishop, who supervised the research at Writtle University College.
Still the direction of cannabis in Jamaica is still uncertain.
“Several conditional, approved licenses have been granted for local-based companies,” says Delano Seiveright, director of Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA). “There are good partnerships which have been formed with overseas companies from the United States of America and Canada. So if these farmers get their licenses, opportunities will soon be there for them to benefit from.”
Seiveright suggested farmers would potentially be able to export their ganja, but only once they’re properly licensed.
“Jamaica for so long has been associated with this plant,” says Doug Gordon, who organized the CanEx Conference in Jamaica, a coming together mainly of suits, a few Rastafarians, and others with something at stake in the country’s cannabis policy. “Now it’s a business, opportunity, one that can change the future of this country through jobs and income, one that can change our G.D.P.”