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Jamaican Cannabis Rundown: Laws and Culture Explained

Jamaican Cannabis Rundown: Laws and Culture Explained

It’s likely the most well known cannabis culture in the world. But it wasn’t always that way.

Jamaican cannabis has always been notorious. The stereotypes of the “Rasta Man” puffing on his joint with a beanie and long dreadlocks probably come to most people’s minds when you mention Jamaica. But why?

Jamaica has an interesting and relatively brief history with cannabis compared to other countries in the Middle East and Asia. Yet other than it’s clear water and beautiful beaches, cannabis is one of Jamaica’s biggest attractions.

Jamaican Cannabis Quick History

Cannabis has been in Jamaica since the mid 1800s, brought to the island by indentured servants from India while both Jamaica and India were under British rule. In fact, the word ganja used by most in Jamaica to describe cannabis stems from Hindu origins.

Believe it or not, cannabis was actually banned in Jamaica under the 1913 Ganja Law, which was supported by the European elites and Council of Evangelical Churches in Jamaica (side note, Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country). This law would be made even more strict over time, especially during times of civil unrest during the 1940s and 60s.

Despite the laws in place, cannabis was still a customary herb in Jamaica for over 100 years. After the 1960s, farmers in Jamaica saw opportunity to take advantage of the growing demand for cannabis in Europe and North America. This resulted in even more enforcement from police, but the resulting trafficking industry made enough money for many in the political and legal systems to look the other way.

It wouldn’t be until February 2015 that Jamaica actually moved to change their cannabis laws for the better.

Cannabis Decriminalization/Legalization in Jamaica

Taking the same name from the oppressive original law, the Ganja Law of 2015 reversed the rules of the 1913 law, and added new, more progressive amendments in their place. To start, Jamaica decriminalized small amounts of cannabis for personal use, if you consider two ounces to be a small amount.

The new Ganja Law also allowed the cultivation of up to five plants, both only resulting in a petty offense instead of a criminal record. Practitioners of the Rastafari religion were also given permission to use cannabis for religious purposes. All of these amendments were put in place not only to reduce harsh punishments for cannabis use, but to pave the way for a new, legal, medical cannabis industry.

Most notably, the 2015 Ganja Law included special amendments that aimed to help indigenous farmers get a step up in the new medical industry, including government subsidies for land and equipment, plus assistance with licensing to enter the medical industry from the private market.

While these new amendments were passed in 2015, it wouldn’t be until early 2018 that the first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Jamaica. Now while the medical industry is slowly growing, the private market has exploded, especially when it comes to cannabis tourism.

ganja culture in Jamaica

Jamaican Cannabis Culture

It only takes one visit to Jamaica to recognize that “decriminalization” means two different things in Jamaica and the United States. While the applications of decriminalization are the same — getting caught with small amounts of cannabis results in a fine and no criminal record — the degree of enforcement is vastly different.

In other words, there is almost no enforcement on the private cannabis market in Jamaica compared to the United States. While it is extremely uncommon to see someone smoking cannabis publicly in a decriminalized state of the U.S., it is much more normalized in Jamaica.

The vast difference in acceptance of cannabis all has to do with the culture surrounding cannabis. While Jamaica may have banned cannabis for some time, it never had the massive propaganda machine that the United States had to push the drug war agenda, turning millions of people against cannabis for decades.

Also having cannabis as part of the island’s main religious sacrament exposed many more to the plant from a young age where it became more normalized, and seen more as a potentially useful plant than a dangerous narcotic like how it was viewed in the states.

Due to the country’s overall embrace of cannabis since its arrival in Jamaica, the industry is thriving, and is only going to continue to grow, both legally and illicitly.

Hear more about what smoking Jamaican ganja is actually like right here.

Illinois Legalization: Illinois becomes 11th state to legalize cannabis

Illinois Legalization: Illinois becomes 11th state to legalize cannabis

Illinois residents can soon enjoy cannabis freely in their home state, they just have to wait a while.

Illinois has become the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize cannabis for recreational use after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will allow the licensed growth, sales, possession and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and older. One of Pritzker’s campaign promises, the bill also implements the nation’s first comprehensive statewide cannabis marketplace designed by legislators.

Suffice to say the governor was excited to sign the bill into law, and said that it was long overdue in the state. However Illinoisans will still need to wait a while to start working in the cannabis industry in the state.

Illinois Legalization

With this new bill comes a few big steps for the state of Illinois. The bill will allow the licensed growth, sales, possession and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and older, allowing possession of up to an ounce for residents, and 15 grams for non residents.

Illinois is also the first state to fully legalize commercial sales of cannabis through the legislature, rather than through referendum. But one aspect of this bill that will start impacting individuals immediately, is the expungement clause.

Pritzker emphasized that the law provides for automatic expungement of arrests for marijuana possession under 30 grams, and that he will pardon those with convictions for possession up to 30 grams. Individuals and prosecutors may go to court to seek expungement of cases involving up to 500 grams.

“Today we are giving hundreds of thousands of people the chance at a better life,” Pritzker said.

Once the market grows to maturity, the program is estimated to generate $500 million a year in taxes. That would come from a 10% tax on products with up to 35% THC, the component of the plant that gets users high; 20% for cannabis-infused products such as edibles; and 25% for THC concentrations of more than 35% — plus local sales taxes.

In a concession to law enforcement, an earlier provision to allow adults to grow five plants each at home was eliminated. Instead, only certified medical marijuana patients would be allowed to grow up to five plants each at home.

Now What?

While the bill has been signed into law, Illinois won’t be selling recreational cannabis to its citizens anytime soon. The permits the sale of legal cannabis products starting in January of 2019. So while not that far away, Illinoisans still have over 6 months to wait before they can purchase or grow their own cannabis.

The governor emphasized that 25% of the revenue from marijuana taxes will go to marijuana business ownership in black and brown communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. In addition, 20% will go to substance abuse treatment and prevention and mental health care, with additional funds going to pay the state’s bills, law enforcement and public education on marijuana health issues.

To address concerns that cannabis retail shops will end up concentrated in minority neighborhoods, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a co-sponsor of the bill, said there are minimum distances between shops to avoid a “liquor store on every corner“ phenomenon.

Local governments can still ban marijuana businesses or set rules to determine where they are allowed. While municipalities cannot prohibit people from possessing marijuana, landlords can still keep it off their property and employers can prohibit use by their employees.

It’s going to be an intense 6 months in the Illinois legislature as application processes begin and citizens start applying en masse. The state will need to establish how many applications it approve, and how many licenses will be given out to commercial growers, processors and retailers.

Stay tuned on The Real Dirt for updates about Illinois legalization and what’s happening with the cannabis industry development in the state.

Is New York Next to Legalize Cannabis?

Is New York Next to Legalize Cannabis?

New support from New York’s Farm Bureau could be the final push the state needs to legalize cannabis. But will it be enough?

The New York Farm Bureau issued a memo Monday backing a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in New York, which lawmakers are considering before they end their annual session June 19. And farmers have a lot to gain if this bill passes and New York decides to legalize cannabis.

This bill specifically includes measures meant to ensure struggling farmers in New York’s poorer counties get a chance to break in to the marijuana and hemp industries. While the farming industry in New York isn’t in any risk of shutting down any time soon, getting preferential treatment should the state legalize cannabis would mean big money for the industry.

What’s in the New York Bill to Legalize Cannabis

The bill, should it pass, would create a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee the recreational and medicinal marijuana industries, as well as the hemp industry.

Only those above the age of 21 would be able to legally purchase marijuana, and local governments would have the ability to hold a public referendum to block legal sales within their borders. This has happened in states like Massachusetts, where local governments kept cannabis illegal despite the state’s decision to legalize cannabis for adult us.

The bill overall is relatively standard for states that legalized in the past. Adult use, cultivation and sale will be permitted, but until the bill passes, there won’t be an Office of Cannabis Management to begin working on the details.

Farmers Might Not Be Enough

While the Farmers Bureau represents over a thousand farms in New York state, the only votes that matter in this case are those of the Democrats in New York. 30 Democrats have gotten on board with the bill, but 32 are needed to pass without any Republican support.

However the Democrats are confident that the bill will at least have enough votes to pass the lower chamber, and Governor Cuomo of New York has pledged to sign the bill if it gets to his desk.

New York has the third largest population of any state in the country, an a legal cannabis market would bring in massive amounts of revenue to the state. While California has had a slew of problems since they legalized cannabis due to the surplus of private market growers and illegal dispensaries, New York wouldn’t have the same problem.

If done right, New York could potentially become the new cannabis hub of the world. But that is a big IF.

Should New York legalize, there’s going to be a bunch more farmers planting clones outside for the very first time. Luckily The Real Dirt has that covered.
Did the USDA Really Deschedule THC?

Did the USDA Really Deschedule THC?

The USDA did deschedule THC. Just not in the way people currently believe.

An article that has exploded within the cannabis community claims that the USDA quietly “legalized” THC last week. While this isn’t entirely wrong, it is incredibly misleading. This is because the descheduling of THC by the USDA only applies to THC in hemp.

For a quick refresher, The Farm Bill of 2018 legalized industrial hemp. This “legal” hemp is defined as any cannabis plant with a THC percentage of .3% or less. But if THC is still on the controlled substances list, how can that be?

The USDA on THC

In a memorandum submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture on May 28th, the USDA gives a legal opinion on provisions to the Farm Bill. They point out a specific amendment in the newest version of the bill that removed THC in hemp from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 

By amending the definition of marijuana to exclude hemp as defined in AMA §297A, Congress removed hemp from schedule 1 and removed it entirely from the CSA. This means hemp is no longer considered a controlled substance at all. With the amendment to exclude THC in hemp from schedule 1, Congress has also removed THC in hemp from the CSA.

Now, that last sentence from the memorandum is what people are getting excited about. When paraphrased to say, “Congress has removed THC from the CSA,” it’s easy to see why. But the key words in the entire amendment is “IN HEMP”.

THC in Hemp

This is where the entire article claiming THC is legal falls apart. Hemp has a very specific definition, that being the definition requiring a THC content of .3% or less to be considered hemp. It makes perfect sense that THC in hemp would need to be legal, in order for legal hemp to be able to contain any amount of THC. In other words, because hemp can contain up to .3% THC, that THC needs to be legal for the hemp to be legal.

Now, because of hemps legal definition pertaining to any cannabis plant with .3% THC or less, surpassing the .3% threshold disqualifies the plant as hemp. Under this legal definition, anything above .3% THC is considered psychoactive cannabis, which is still a controlled substance that is federally illegal.

Why it Matters

The article that broke this story hinted at future possibilities with this newly legal THC, like simply breeding hemp to have higher THC. And that’s what makes this article lose all credibility.

Remember when I said that to be legally considered hemp, the cannabis plant must have a THC content of .3% or less? And remember what happens when the THC content surpasses that .3%? It’s no longer hemp.

While this article suggests that the USDA basically just added a magic loophole that will now allow breeders to grow THC rich hemp, it forgets to mention that by doing so, the plant will no longer be hemp. If the author knew the origins of the cannabis plant, they would know that most of the THC-rich strains we consume today were bred to have that high content from what originally was European Hemp with almost no THC to begin with.

What this article is suggesting, is basically repeating the entire history of cannabis breeding, so we can turn the legal hemp we have now, back into illegal cannabis. If you want The Real Dirt’s legal advice, we suggest that you don’t do that. THC has been legalized in the sense that as long as it is in hemp, and does not surpass .3%, it is legal. Once it leaves the hemp, or surpasses .3%, you’re entering some dangerous territory.

But hey, you can judge for yourself! Read the full USDA Memorandum right here.