Jamaica's Marijuana Laws are Finally Relaxing
An inside look at the rebranding of Jamaica’s cannabis culture.
Published on March 21, 2016

The image of Jamaica in the media has always been related to either Bob Marley or marijuana. While both Marley and ganja have deep roots planted in this spectacular island, the reality of consuming and cultivating cannabis in Jamaica differs greatly from the perception. You could even go so far as to call Jamaica’s lack of regulations its worst kept secret. Strangely enough, marijuana has been illegal in Jamaica for decades. In April, 2015 that started to change with the passing of the “ganja law” that decriminalizes marijuana but only to a certain extent. Naturally, radical changes are not that common on the island and to say this law does not come without limitations would be an exaggeration of biblical proportions.

The Nitty Gritty

So, let’s break it down, shall we? Citizens are allowed to cultivate and consume cannabis on a daily basis. If you happen to be one of them, just make sure the number of plants does not exceed five and the company you keep while consuming it is restricted to friends and family, though we can’t imagine smoking with anyone you haven’t invited into your home.

"Home" is a key word here because transporting bud seems excessive to the authorities. It’s fine if you keep it under 56 grams, but you’ll get fined if you’re caught with more. A fine of 500 Jamaican dollars equals about $4.50 USD so you’ll be free to smoke another day. However, anything over two ounces will get you in trouble resulting in a criminal file with trafficking charges. This affects your work status and really complicates things especially if you’re trying to find work in another country.

The law definitely marks a step in the right direction and, as we have witnessed in the US, baby steps are essential when it comes to changing marijuana legislation. Especially when you want to rebrand an entire island with an extremely rich history built on a very strong cannabis culture.

For instance, Rastafarians are the cornerstone of that culture and because of that, they are a tad exempt from the law. Due to the Rastafari religion, they can grow and transport cannabis in unlimited quantities under the condition they consume it during religious practices and don’t sell it to other parties.

Medical Marijuana Industry

One of the governments main goals is to create a community that can establish a new foundation for building a medical marijuana industry necessary for production of cannabis products.

Pills, oils, nutrients, creams and inhalations would essentially become a vital part of that industry. This desire stems from the fact that cannabis is undoubtedly Jamaica’s most relevant product and while Europe, Israel and the US are well ahead of Jamaica in terms of marijuana legislation, Jamaica still holds the keys to some of the best bud available on the planet.

It would be a shame not to regulate the market and reap the benefits from it. Israel, which is probably the last place people initially associate with marijuana, has been so far ahead in the field of medical marijuana research that other countries are struggling to catch up.

That’s why a state agency has been formed that will be in charge of handing out permits to private companies willing to pursue their cultivation projects in this cannabis haven. There is a one-acre limit per permit and local growers are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the recent change in legislation, particularly if they have grown marijuana before and are willing to do it under strict norms that would live up to the standards of medical marijuana.

This is where education comes in and that is why the Jamaican government needs to ensure that everyone is familiar with both legislation and standards before cultivation begins.

Legislation Ends Agitation

Due to legal constrains, growing marijuana in Jamaica has been a stressful occupation with most growers sleeping close to the fields in case of possible raids or robbers that would destroy their crops without blinking twice. Sometimes it’s local folks stumbling upon a grow site, other times it’s local police officers or even Americans who decide to shake things up a bit.

These “actions” usually result in year long incarcerations and burnt fields. That is why it is vital to understand every new law that paves the road for marijuana cultivators. The distinctions need to be clear and local growers must be properly educated to ensure a smooth transition to the next stage – a hassle free cannabis culture in which the locals are free from oppression.

Because when you look at Jamaica’s arrest history, it becomes quite clear that out of 15,000 people arrested per year due to possession, most of them are young and poor men, which essentially makes most locals a very easy target. Whether the police officers will get accustomed to the new law quickly remains to be seen but history has shown that a change in police attitude rarely happens over night. That is why Jamaicans are putting a lot of faith in the National Security Minister, Peter Bunting, who has personally instructed the authorities not to be extremely meticulous in nitpicking the number of buds in people's possession.


Make no mistake, one of the primary motivators for the launch of Jamaica’s medical marijuana industry is the fact that a similar approach has worked wonders in other countries. And we’re not just talking about Amsterdam or Israel here. Colorado is probably the best example of how to successfully regulate a marijuana industry and educate a ton of people during the process.

People who have problems obtaining specific medical marijuana strains in other parts of the United States, simply pack up and move to Colorado with their families. And there are a lot of success stories because of that. A great number of lives have been changed for the better. Isn’t that something we can all benefit from?

While the bill does not allow smoking marijuana in public places, that doesn’t mean tourist will have a hard time obtaining permits to actually buy and enjoy marijuana in the confines of their resorts, rented bungalows and apartments. So, if you’re planning to drop by Jamaica anytime soon, make sure the resort you are visiting allows smoking or vaporizing cannabis in the first place.

Future Plans

Time will tell whether Jamaica will rebuild itself as an important player in the medical marijuana industry but as we mentioned before, there is really no need to rush things. The key ingredients are there, along with some truly extraordinary strains in an environment that provides growers with terrific conditions for cultivation. It is essential that the path Jamaica follows from now on does not deviate from its original plan.

The regulations need to be strict for the time being, ensure a healthy cannabis climate and in the meantime educate not only local growers but also private companies ready to invest in the country and its people. After those conditions have been met, further expansion of legislation needs to be considered and in good time, the entire island will benefit from it tremendously by reinvesting their profits into new technologies, marijuana research, and education.

Holden Caulfield
A storyteller with several years of professional experience in copywriting, branding and digital production. Currently, he is researching transmedia production and creative technologies while pursuing a degree in ‘Media Studies’ at The New School in New York.
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