On April 15, 2015, the government decriminalized ganja in Jamaica. The amended Dangerous Act states that possessing two-ounce or less ganja is not an arrestable offense. However, an officer may issue a ticket of JA$500, and the person gets 30 days to pay at the tax office. It is similar to a traffic ticket.
Many people welcome this move, but some are skeptical; anything but full legalization is disappointing.
You would think ganja is indigenous to the island and grows like grass on every lawn by listening to Jamaica’s music. But that’s not the case; it is a band substance of South Asia origin.
It came with Indian indentured servants who replaced African slave labor on the sugar plantations starting in 1845. The word ganja is Hindu, and its recorded use in Jamaica began when they arrived.
The Indian’s connection to Rastafarian and their use of the herb as a sacrament further solidifies this theory. But, it could have taken many other routes to the island.
Under British control, North America used hemp to make rope, paper, and lamp fluid in the 1600s. Also, Brazil in the 1500s had marijuana brought there by the Portuguese or enslaved Congolese. Ganja existed in the homeland of some Africans. Therefore it could have come with them during the slave trade.
Jamaica, the face of ganja use
Jamaica is the face of ganja. Reggae music and Rastafarians are the biggest promoters of its use. Although a small part of the Jamaican population, their popularity makes them loud.
Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and other reggae superstars often feature in the international media smoking herb. Some people’s first introduction to ganja is from lines in their favorite reggae tune talking about its wonders. It is easy to picture Jamaica as a ganja utopia without knowing the culture. However, thats not the case. The laws are not liberal; they are just as oppressive as most of the globe.
Most of the island still has a conservative view on the smoking of ganja. As a result, Jamaica is not even among the top twenty weed consumers. Of the 2.7 million inhabitants, only 7.2 percent regularly use it, based on a 2018 study.
It may surprise some people that this plant was illegal on the island. Up to 2015, a joint in your possession could land you in jail. People on the island have a criminal record because the police caught them smoking a spliff.
Ganja’s decriminalization benefits business interests more than the citizens. It’s hard for the average person to get into the legal trade. Cultivating more than five plants, being caught with more than two ounces, or selling drugs without a license can land you in jail.
If you have fewer than two ounces, it is still up to the police discretion to give you a $500 ticket or not. An officer having a bad day could make your life difficult.
The Rastafarian community has a better deal than the general population; they can plant any amount for their religious sacrament. However, it comes with restrictions. They must use it at their place of worship.
Rastafarians do not have a centralized body and are unlikely to register with the government because of their belief. So it will be difficult for them to prove their affiliation.
When did ganja in Jamaica become illegal?
Herb became illegal in Jamaica under the 1913 Ganja Law, supported by the white elites and the Council of Evangelical Churches in Jamaica.
With the rise of the Rastafarian movement led by Lenard Howell, the laws became harsher in the 1940-the 60s. The movement leaders discussed revolutionary ideas that would undermine the colonial government and Jamaica’s ruling class. But, fearing unrest from the poor, they used ganja to suppress the Rastafarian movement.
They used propaganda and misinformation to demonize rastas; they labeled them violent criminals. The police constantly terrorized them, cut their dreadlocks, and threw them in jail for a few ounces of ganja. Sometimes after beating them severely.
An incident that stood out was the Pinnacle Heights rasta village raid, destroying an entire community and jailing many members. The Coral Gorden incident is another example of the state oppressing rastas.
Jamaica did not act on its own to illegalize ganja; it was a part of an international collaboration to eliminate the drug. The fight against marijuana is not unique to the modern era because society elites have always felt threatened by the poor using ganja.
The Jamaican government’s heavy-handed tactics with foreign powers’ financial support are mild compared to actions taken in other parts of the world throughout history. For example, Egypt’s 1378 crackdown on ganja was brutal; entire villages were destroyed, farmers’ teeth pulled out, and some even executed for planting the drug.
Ganja uses traditional medicine in Jamaica.
Ganja has always been a part of medicine since its discovery. The ancient world used it as a pain killer, anesthetic, diuretic, and many other applications.
It’s hard not to find a ganja plant in a rural home garden in jamaica. It is not that everyone smokes, but it is used for home remedies, even by conservatives on the island. Often time combines with white rum Jamaica’s most popular spirit.
Every rural Jamaican home has a glass bottle with rum and ganja soaking, sometimes with ripe pimento. They use it to treat almost every common sickness, from colds to asthma.
Jamaican doctors created medicine derived from ganja.
Jamaican scientists made drugs using ganja to treat glaucoma and asthma. Professor Manley West and Dr.Albert Lockhart are the creators of Canasol, an eye drop derived from ganja used for glaucoma treatment. They also created an asthma drug called Asmasol.
The inspiration for their research started after hearing fishers in Portland, Jamaica saying they saw better at night when they smoked ganja before heading out to sea. So they went on a quest to prove this theory and help people with eye problems. Although not approved by the FDA, their products are highly rated globally and have little or no side effects on patients.
Ganja and tourist
Jamaica is known globally for producing some of the best ganja. This is because so many people visit the island for a draw of the good sensimia. You might think the drug is easily accessible and available in every corner store, but that’s, not the case.
Legal ganja is restrictive; there are only a few dispensaries on the island, mainly on the North coast. All thought decriminalized, it is illegal to sell without a license. However medical marijuana is legal, but patients will need a prescription from a medical practitioner in their home country to prove they need it for therapeutic purposes. Or they can sign a voluntary declaration to confirm this. After that, the Jamaica Ministry of Health issues the permit, and a fee is paid.
Cigarette smoking rules apply to ganja; you cannot smoke within 5 meters of public space. You can be ticketed for smoking ganja if you have two-ounce or less; pay a JA$500 fine. If you fail to pay, you will go to petty session court. If found guilty, you will do community service or pay JA$ 2,000 if not possible. A conviction will go on your criminal record.
The illegal sale of ganja
Although illegal to sell without a license, you can still get ganja on the streets. It didn’t survive in Jamaica because people followed the rules. In some towns, people sell openly on the road; you can get two ounces for as little as JA$100. They will offer to sell you weed in the tourist area but not openly. Expect to pay tourist prices, although cheaper than the dispensaries. Crime against tourists is low in Jamaica, but I wouldn’t advise you to go off with someone to buy or smoke weed.
There are ganja farm tours on the island where you can visit farms and see how it is grown. You can also visit rasta village and see how they grow and use marijuana. However, the Jamaica Tourist Board does not approve all tours.
The government decriminalized ganja in Jamaica and made it legal for medical use. You can purchase from a dispensary for therapeutic purposes, but you must have proof from a medical practitioner.
You can smoke in your private space and cultivate up to five trees. If you get caught with two ounces or less, you will pay a fine of JA $500. If you do not pay and are found guilty in court, you will get a criminal record, do community service, or pay a JA$ 2,000 fine.