It’s a pretty common question for those traveling to the Caribbean – is weed legal in Jamaica? Jamaica and weed go hand in hand. The stereotype of Jamaican’s smoking weed is well-known. Bob Marley, one of the most well-known cannabis advocates was Jamaican.
But is weed legal in Jamaica? Medically yes, recreationally no, however depending on how you define legal, the answer can be complicated.
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With just under 3 million people, Jamaica has a population similar in size to Mississippi or Kansas. By land size, it’s between the sizes of Delaware and Connecticut at around 4244mi2 (10990km2). Its largest city is the capital of Kingston with a population of around 940,000 people.
Its other cities include New Kingston, Spanish Town and Portmore. New Kingston is directly next to Kingston, with a population of 584,000, and is often included in the overall capital of Kingston. Spanish Town and Portmore have 145,000 and 103,000 residents respectively. These two cities are both within 15 miles (25 km) of Kingston. The largest city not within the Kingston area is the popular tourist destination of Montego Bay. It sits in the North-West of the country, and has a population of around 83,000.
Weed in Jamaica – A Brief History
Weed gained its popularity in Jamaica largely due to Rastafari, a religion that was developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. Rastafari is an Ethiopian influenced religion that gained popularity as a mechanism to push back against the British culture that was prominent at the time.
Smoking weed is commonplace at Rastafari meetings, as is music, singing and discussions. Bob Marley was often seen as a Rastafari icon amongst the community, bringing the religion more visibility throughout Jamaica and world wide.
Although Rastafari has seen a decline in popularity over the years, in part due to Marley’s death, cannabis use has remained an important part of Jamaica’s culture.
Current Weed Laws in Jamaica
Despite the long history of usage being part of the Rastafari religion, Jamaica only decriminalized weed for personal use in 2015. Being caught in possession of 2 ounces or less won’t result in a criminal conviction anymore.
Rastafarians are now permitted to smoke weed for religious purposes, ending a long time disagreement between the government and citizens. Medical cannabis is also legal now, provided patients obtain a doctors prescription. A lot of this weed is grown through the Alternative Development Program – more on that below. Tourists and visitors can also get access to medical cannabis, provided they have an existing prescription, or obtain one locally.
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Using weed recreationally isn’t legal yet in Jamaica, and is facing some pretty big road blocks. Jamaica is heavily reliant on the United States Dollar, and that reason is holding them back. Although the Jamaican Dollar is most often used internally, the USD is used for international trade. To gain access to banking facilities in USD, their trades and businesses must comply with federal US law, under which cannabis is illegal for recreational use.
Jamaica is also not in a position to be able to break international treaties on drugs, as trade agreements might be terminated. This could also occur in Canada, however due to their economic size this isn’t as much of an issue for them. Should the US federally legalize, Jamaica weed laws could become a lot more friendly and tolerant.
Jamaica’s Weed Tourism
Although not strictly legal, Jamaica’s weed tourism is booming. You can find everything from farm tours, bud & breakfasts, to secluded beach activities and accommodation. Tourists can even purchase a cannabis permit once they arrive.
In the tourist hot spots like Negril, you might even find a local Jamaican walking along the beach, with huge bags of weed strapped to them. They’ve got such huge bags strapped to them, because often your tourist dollars will get you a decent amount. Herb.co reported that $20 can get you a decent looking quarter ounce bag. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, but compared to the dispensary prices in some US states it’s a steal.
Given Jamaica’s tropical location and world-renowned stereotype for being cannabis-friendly, travel experts expect this upward trend of weed tourism to only continue. Of course, you can find all these things legally within the US, but Jamaica has the true tropical island feel to it that California is missing. Travel a little further though and you can enjoy the subtropical climate of Uruguay, with legal recreational weed.
The Alternative Development Program
The Jamaican government is looking to expand its current Alternative Development Program. This program essentially exists to transition illegal growing operations into medicinal operations. The government has committed to technical support, while harnessing the existing infrastructure and land required for growing.
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Floyd Green, the Minister for Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries said in a statement about the program in January 2020:
“What we will be doing in 2020, is looking for more community groups of traditional growers that we will engage and provide the technical support for them to transition into the medicinal marijuana industry”
Talk about taking a proactive approach to the issues around cannabis. If only all governments around the world had the same line of thinking.