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.

The Culture and Business of Ganja in Jamaica

The Culture and Business of Ganja in Jamaica

Ganja is as much a part of Jamaica’s identity as their beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches. But how is it, really? 

This week’s episode of The Real Dirt takes a departure (literally) from the U.S. cannabis industry and culture. While I may have been on vacation in Jamaica technically (and physically most of the time), I had to do my part as an amateur connoisseur to sample the local ganja.

Several times in fact.

Because as an educator it is my job to inform you of the differences in cannabis around the world, I made sure to do my due diligence.

Getting Ganja in Jamaica

To be honest I was actually concerned I was going to have trouble getting some ganja when I got to Jamaica. I definitely should not have been concerned.

I wasn’t even on the resort’s beach for an hour before I had my first interaction. A man rows up in an old wooden canoe, with a box full of trinkets and knick knacks dangling on the outside of it for tourists to buy.

But it was what he had hidden that I was after. “I got anything you need,” the guy said to me. Emphasis on ANYTHING. Bam. It was that easy. Or so I thought.

This guy tried to sell me what had to have been at most two grams, for $80 USD. That’s right. Eighty dollars, American. Maybe it was a jerk move on my part, but I had to laugh a little bit. It should go without saying I did not purchase my ganja from that man.

Luckily all I had to do was throw $40 to my bartender and he gave me about an 1/8 of sweet, seed-filled ganja. Before you say it out loud, yes I was ripped off. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers, and I was basically begging strangers for some weed.

How is it?

Just to get all the details on the table; over my week long stay, I would purchase a little over seven grams of flower, a half gram of Jamaican hash and a red velvet cake edible from four different sellers. You bet I finished all of it before I flew out of there.

Now when it actually came to tasting it all, each batch of flower was different. The first bud was full of seeds, probably close to 20 in the 3.5 grams or so that we got. The second bud came still on the branch, with a cola at the top and smaller popcorn buds down the stem. The third flower we got looked the best; it had a nice trim, not many seeds, and the best smell out of the batch.

what is jamaican ganja

All of the flower was dark. Compared to the US where you see a lot of light green or purple flowers with vibrant orange hairs, Jamaican ganja did not have much of that at all.

Smell wise, the buds were more earthy and grassy than anything, but there was a subtle sweetness to each bud when I gave them a squeeze and broke them open.

While I expected to cough up a lung, I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth the smoke was. The buds were a lot stickier than most Colorado buds, and without a grinder it took me a while to roll my joints. Once they were rolled and lit, the joints burned pretty evenly, and I rarely had to relight a joint.

The smells and flavors reminded me of the reggie I smoked in high school when I didn’t know any better. Maybe it was the nostalgia, or the fact that I knew I couldn’t get higher quality bud if I tried, but I really enjoyed the ganja I had.

Inside the Culture and Business of Ganja in Jamaica

In this week’s episode of The Real Dirt, I talk to Chip about my experience in Jamaica, sampling the local ganja and my experience of the cannabis culture in Jamaica and how it compares to the US.

After our talk, get a full, in depth discussion with Jessica Baker and Dr. Lakisha Jenkins, who works in the medical cannabis industry in Jamaica. From private market culture to legal market progress, get it all in this episode of The Real Dirt Podcast.

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