Yeah Mon! Jamaica Finally Joins the Party

In my lifetime, the island nation of Jamaica, which gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, has been one of the world’s most cannabis-friendly nations, both for locals and for tourists. While technically marijuana, or ganja as they call it in Jamaica, was until recently illegal, in fact marijuana and marijuana smoking was largely ignored by authorities, and one could not get through the airport at either Negril or Kingston without being offered marijuana by several local entrepreneurs, competing for your business.

I know because I accepted the hospitality of these “Welcome Wagon” connections on a couple of occasions, and found the product to be excellent, and the cost was a bargain, at least compared to high-quality home-grown marijuana in the US.

And, of course, Jamaica is home to the Rastafarians, a fascinating and colorful (frequent use of red, yellow and green stripes in their hats and other clothing, the colors from the Ethiopian flag) religion that was started in Jamaica in the 1930s by descendants of African slaves, that celebrates the spiritual use of cannabis and is practiced by an estimated 1,000,000 adherents world-wide.

For many Americans, their first awareness of Jamaica may well have been cultural, when they first heard Bob Marley, a Rastafari musician, songwriter and singer who introduced reggae music and dreadlocks to the world, openly preached the benefits of marijuana smoking, and who became enormously popular in the U.S. and around the world, selling more than 75 million albums. Similarly, Peter Tosh, another reggae music star who first performed with Marley as part of the Wailers, before becoming a successful solo artist (who could ever forget his 1976 “Legalize It” anthem), popularized Rastafarianism, and advocated for marijuana legalization.

Sadly, Marley died of melanoma in 1981 at the age of 36, but his influence and reputation continue to fascinate, even today. The Marley family earlier this year announced that, in conjunction with the Privateer Holding Company from the U.S., they will be offering a new global cannabis brand to be called Marley Natural, featuring “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains inspired by those Bob Marley enjoyed.” And President Obama, in a state visit to Jamaica in February, made an unscheduled stop at the Bob Marley museum. Obama had earlier, in an interview with MTV, discussed the influence Marley had on him during his youth.

I traveled to Jamaica on two occasions during the 1990s to work with Jamaica NORML to move proposed legalization proposals forward through their parliament. On both occasions, despite a clear majority of legislators wishing to officially legalize ganja, senior government officials became convinced the U.S. would punish Jamaica were it to legalize marijuana, by cutting important aid programs, and the legalization drive was stopped dead in its tracks. They wanted to legalize ganja, but they needed our foreign aid, and the U.S. was more than happy at that time to use the leverage of our aid programs to dismantle their ganja reform efforts.

But all of that leverage ended once states in the U.S. began to push forward with marijuana legalization, without sanctions or punitive responses from the federal government. Seeing that legalization was no longer verboten within the U.S., the Jamaicans realized they now had the freedom to determine their own domestic marijuana policy without fear of U.S. economic retribution.

Jamaica Decriminalizes Marijuana

In late February of this year, the Jamaican Parliament enacted new laws governing ganja, which took effect on July 15, removing criminal penalties for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, substituting a $5 civil fine with no arrest or criminal record. In addition, households will be permitted to cultivate up to five marijuana plants. The legislation also authorized officials to enact regulations licensing the cultivation and dispensing of medical and industrial cannabis, as well as the right of the Rastafarians to use ganja as a religious sacrament.

While the Parliament has not yet authorized regulations to license commercial growers and recreational dispensaries, most observers expect that will come in the near future. Already they have invited U.S. marijuana tourism by announcing that those from the U.S. who hold medical recommendations will also qualify to obtain up to 2 ounces of medical ganja while they are in Jamaica. Justice Minister Mark Golding described the reforms as “long overdue.”

And to appropriately celebrate the addition of Jamaica to the growing list of countries that have decriminalized the use of marijuana, High Times recently announced they will be holding a World Cannabis Cup in Negril this year, on Nov. 12–15. Now that’s an occasion I would not want to miss.

Yeah, mon! See you in Negril.

12 thoughts

  1. Am I correct in thinking that the only reason that marijuana was illegal in Jamaica is because of “America – The Land of the Free” somehow coerced their country into making it illegal?

    I’m so disgusted with American politicians (primarily the Republicans and their bible thumping choir) and their idiotic policies I could scream! This Un-American stupidity needs to end now.

    Please, once again, I ask that President Obama do the right thing before he leaves office and removes marijuana from the controlled substances act. We all know that the only reason it was ever put there was because of racist and political reasons. It was never about public safety as they claim.

    Mr. Obama, can we please end the stupidity???
    I know the Republicans will put up a fight to continue their brand of prohibitionist idiocy, but seriously, screw them!!!

  2. “Open your eyes and look within.
    Are you satisfied
    With the life your livin?”
    -Robert Nesta Marley

    “A revolution is to bring on change and we’re spiritual people trying to bring on spiritual change. It might sound like I’m a dreamer, but economic models have reached their height of evolution. Technology has evolved. What hasn’t evolved is mankind’s spirituality; everything is from 3,000 years ago.”
    Damian Marley

    I wonder how Jamaica’s new marijuana policy is affecting the health and performance of their soccer team? Jamaica is playing the U.S. in the world cup semi-finals tomorrow so they must be doing something right. Marijuana’s ability to prevent permanent brain injury from concussions would have me toking up before every game.

    There’s a terrible coincidence in watching the World Cup while FIFA festers in corruption with watching and participating in the entertaining progression of marijuana legalization while our government… Well… festers in corruption. It makes the only interest in the game to watch who is truly playing the sport for passion and feeling (Sanders) and who is taking bribes for penalty shots (Trump).

  3. Jamaica is a very violent, crime-ridden country, though. Prohibitionists always point to Jamaica to make their “point”.

  4. To blame it on the bud, there are place in Chicago you don’t go to same as Jamaica. During the hay day of Prohibition that was a place where you could relax and smoke. Respect! to Jamaica and Negril one love.

  5. Handplantfavorers who have hands to work are urged to open a workshop/headshop in Queens oops sorry Kingston specializing in making and promoting Choomette flexdrawtube one-hitters and accessories which prostandarize the 25-mg single-vapetoke concept and easy-learn heat-gap lighting procedure– “More Marley, Less Monoxide!”

    Try looking at 361 images of Marley and drawing a cartoon of Marley demo-serving a Choomette single toke, also one of Marley serving Richard Branson on a dwbbletoke model (“Virgin Marley”– imagine some airline routes in and out of Jamaica with gorgeous robed women serving vapes on board).

    Creative Evolution: in the year 3001 there will be 90 billion humans averaging seven (7) pounds per adult requiring same amount of food as the human population today. They will be long and lithe like Modigliani figures (nickname “Modis”), be a professional engineer by age 3 but have a lifespan of 600 years, be able to climb to the top of a 200-foot tree in 13 seconds, and their fingers will do anything a needle-nose pliers can do today.

  6. Nice to see a “ganja” country like Jamaica getting a chance to move forward on this. I’ve always wanted to visit that country; maybe someday–after full legalization–I can.

  7. Those in states that have Medical Marijuana will be allowed to partake. Well for the rest of the USA, like in South Carolina…Jamaica says screw you.

  8. Check out this video of Bob Marley (with video of people in Jamaica) playing 3 oclock rd block in Jamaica…

    If you look closely you will see a bus with giant stalks of ganja strapped to the top of the bus…

    “Hey… Hey Mista Cop…
    Aint got none so you gotta take it off me, no?”

  9. And correction to an earlier post… Its the Gold Cup, not the World Cup, and since Jamaica beat the U.S., good luck Sunday between Jamaica and Mexico on Sunday; may the best team win (and not the best bribed penalty shot).

    Let’s play fair! Let a man play for his game and not by whether he can afford to play in the finals… Damn! Does a marijuana reform movement have to correct FIFA too?
    (Sigh) So much work to do… But we’re finally getting the flowers off our roots…

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