“I can get stronger stuff at home, but there’s something really special about smoking marijuana in Jamaica. I mean, this is the marijuana that inspired Bob Marley,” said a 26-year-old tourist from Minnesota. She identified herself only as Angie due to the fact the pot she was crumbling into a rolling paper is illegal both at home and in Jamaica.
An online vacation guide called Jamaicamax promises to organize ganja tours in the Negril area. But there’s a caveat: First you have to smoke a marijuana “spliff” with your guide, presumably to show you are not law enforcement.
“After you smoke a spliff with us and we get to know you then we will take you on the best ganja tours in Jamaica and you’ll smoke (and eat if you want) so much ganja you’ll be talking to Bob Marley himself,” the travel website says.
More than a decade after a government commission said marijuana was “culturally entrenched” and recommended decriminalizing personal use by adults, influential politicians and businessmen are pushing for Jamaica to cast off old fears of angering Washington and loosen up laws.
Henry Lowe, a prominent Jamaican scientist who helped develop a cannabis-derived medication to treat glaucoma in the 1980s, said the island could quickly become a hub of marijuana tourism and research. “People could come down to Jamaica for medical marijuana treatment and health tourism because this has been our tradition, our culture.”
Indentured servants from India are thought to have brought the plant to Jamaica in the 19th century. Its use as a medicinal herb spread rapidly, with some people using ganja tea to alleviate aches and others using rum-soaked marijuana as a cold remedy. By the 1970s, marijuana became even more popular due to Rastafarian reggae stars like Marley and Peter Tosh.
For now, criminal gangs dominate the island’s marijuana trade, and turf wars fueled in part by pot profits have long plagued gritty parts of Jamaica. But advocates say decriminalization or legalization would shift profits away from gangs, freeing money that now goes for arresting and jailing pot users.
For Breezy and his friends, any reforms couldn’t come soon enough.
“The government needs to free up marijuana soon, man, because it’s a natural thing, a spiritual thing,” Breezy said before sticking his nose in a clump of pot plants and taking an appreciative sniff. “And the tourists love it.”