Ganja in Jamaica: Is It Legal?

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Many visitors come to Jamaica expecting that there are no rules surrounding marijuana, or ganja as it is locally known, and think they will see it in abundance on the streets since marijuana has become synonymous with Jamaica through our music, Rastafarian lifestyles and events like “The Stepping High Ganja Festival” hosted in Negril the past 12 years which was originally started as a yard party by vacationers from the U.S. There is also “The Best Bud Cup” which is awarded each year to the competitor with the highest grade of ganja.

However, use of ganja both for recreational and medical use has always been illegal in Jamaica and it is only recent that Jamaican Government finally decided to relax the law surrounding it. Amendment was made on February 6, 2015 which was also Bob Marley’s 70th Birthday.

This is not to say that smoking ganja is legal in Jamaica. It still is an offence to arrest and any kind of public smoking including cigarette smoking is prohibited in Jamaica. That being said, new law makes the possession of up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of ganja just a matter of ticket which you pay approximately $5 US. And it will not result in any criminal record.

Ganja originates in India and came to Jamaica in the 1800’s. It was brought by the East Indian laborers to work on plantations after the abolition of slavery. Laborers used the leaves to make tea and mixed it with tobacco for smoking. It was referred to as the wisdom weed as it contains an active chemical ingredient, THC. THC is a hallucinogen that distorts the mind and how you perceive the world around you. The effect of the drug is felt within minutes and usually lasts for 2-3 hours.

Jamaica’s climate was considered to be perfect for growing ganja and of the highest grades, and today many argue that legalization of ganja can benefit Jamaican economy through its export and the possibilities of attractions and activities like the festivals, reggae music, marijuana wedding to be included to the Jamaican vacation product. In many part of the world, ganja is known as one of the most-used “illegal drugs”. Yet, studies have revealed its positive impact on health issues, such as glaucoma and HIV/AIDS. It also relaxes the mind and muscles.

Therefore, debate of legalization remains a hot-button topic and has often been met with resistance for fears of repercussions from the US and other influential UN members.

This video shows when U.S. President Barack Obama was asked a question on legalization policy while talking with young leaders at the University of the West Indies on his visit to Jamaica in 2015.

Miguel “Steppa” Williams poses president a question about U.S.’s attitude on “the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana” in Jamaica.

“How did I anticipate this question?” “How did I guess this question?” Obama.

“There are two states in the United States that have embarked on an experiment to decriminalize or legalize marijuana,” Obama said, as seen in the above video. “Right now that is not federal policy and I do not foresee, anytime soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis, but I do think that if there are states that show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential of increased addiction then it’s conceivable that that will spur on a national debate, but that is going to be some time off.”

“We had some discussion with the Caricom countries about this. I know on paper a lot of folks think, you know, what if we just legalize marijuana then it’ll reduce the money flowing into the transnational drug trade, there are more revenues and jobs created.

“I have to tell you that it’s not a silver bullet because, first of all, if you are legalizing marijuana, how do you deal with other drugs and how do you draw the line.”

“I think we have to have a conversation about this but our current policy continues to be, in the United States, we need to decrease demand and we need to focus on a public health approach to decreasing demand and to stop the flow of guns and cash into the Caribbean and Central America and Latin America. I think the Caribbean and Latin America to Central America have to cooperate with us to try to shrink the power of the transnational drug organizations that are vicious and hugely disruptive,” president added.