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What you need to know about smoking weed legally in Jamaica

More than 40 years after reggae legend Peter Tosh sang ‘Legalize It’, Jamaica is finally recognizing the economic potential of its homegrown industry. Licensed medical dispensaries are popping up all over the island, but with the government opting for the decriminalization of ganja rather than full legalization, many questions remain. Here’s what you need to know about smoking weed legally in Jamaica.

Clearing the air

For many tourists, marijuana has long been an important if unspoken part of the Jamaica experience. Known universally in the country as ganja (or herb to Rastafari adherents), marijuana can seem as Jamaican as Bob Marley or Usain Bolt. Touts whisper in the ears of tourists straight off the cruise ship to offer them a smoke, while vendors openly sell pre-rolled spliffs at dancehall street parties in downtown Kingston.

Until recently, possession of even small amounts of ganja could land visitors in jail. But a wholesale revision of drugs laws has seen all that change. Jamaica has decided that ganja is very much part of the country’s brand and the potential tax revenues from a home-grown industry aren’t something to be passed up.

In 2015, the Jamaican government passed a series of important amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, decriminalizing ganja and introducing licenses for its cultivation and sale. But decriminalization isn’t quite the same as full legalization, so what are the implications for visitors to Jamaica?

Know the law

Since 2015, possession of up to two ounces (57g) of ganja is no longer a criminal offense. Carrying this amount in public can still attract a fixed penalty fine similar to a parking ticket, of J$500 (around US$3), but no criminal record will result. People under the age of 18 caught in possession may also be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse for counseling. Possession of larger amounts remains a criminal offense.

The possession fine does not apply to medical marijuana, including products purchased at a licensed dispensary. Possession of up to two ounces of weed by visitors for medical purposes is legal. Possession is also legal for sacramental purposes for followers of Rastafari.

Smoking ganja in a public place is prohibited, as it is with cigarettes, with a fixed fine of J$500. It is legal to smoke in licensed dispensaries, but smoking in private residences is no longer an offense.

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Medical marijuana dispensaries

Jamaica’s revised drug laws have allowed the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries, the first of which opened in 2018. Equal parts doctor’s clinic, Amsterdam-style coffee shop and hipster boutique, these are currently the only places where travelers to Jamaica can legally buy cannabis products.

At the time of writing, there are four dispensaries in Jamaica – Island Strains in Montego Bay, Epican in Kingston and Kaya in both Falmouth and St Ann’s Bay. To buy products, ID such as a passport or driving license is required (over 18 only), as well as proof of your medical need to buy ganja. This can take the form of a doctor’s prescription from home or a consultation with an on-site medic, although some dispensaries currently allow self-certification by the completion of a medical form.

A variety of products are offered, including marijuana buds, oil extracts and cartridges for vaping. The new dispensaries take ganja cultivation as seriously as wineries do their terroir. Nearly two dozen distinct Jamaican-grown Sativa, Indica and hybrid strains of the herb are grown on their own plantations for therapeutic and medicinal purposes.

The knowledgeable staff can talk you through their properties and relative concentrations of THC and CBD, the active ingredients in marijuana.

Don’t expect a cloud of smoke when you enter a dispensary – in-house smoking rooms are discreetly tucked away from the main consultation and purchase areas. Most also run their own cafes and juice bars, offering completely ganja-free refreshments.

Due to wider international restrictions on access to banking networks, businesses are cash-only – a reminder of the still-evolving legal situation in Jamaica and beyond.

Dangers

At a dispensary, discuss with the staff your requirements as well as your previous experiences. Some strains are notoriously strong, particularly when taken through a traditional Jamaican steam chalice.

Outside the dispensaries, unlicensed vendors are taking advantage of the new permissiveness of the ganja laws, and it’s not unusual to see space cakes or similar edible items openly for sale in cafes or infused in butter in your lobster meal. Be careful, the strengths can vary widely.

Caution is also required if offered ganja plantation tours. Currently, these remain unlicensed and therefore illegal.

When leaving Jamaica it’s important to remember that it is strictly illegal to take any medical ganja product with you. Stick instead to the customs-friendly THC- and CBD-free hemp products sold at the dispensaries.

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The decriminalization of ganja has made smoking weed in Jamaica easier, but there are still a few things to avoid, here's how to do it.

CanadaEnforcementInternationalRegulations Jamaica helps illicit small-time cannabis farmers transition to legal market

Jamaica is working towards stamping out its illicit cannabis market by offering a leg up to farmers growing unlicensed cannabis.

To help raise communities out of poverty and promote sustainable development the government is working with unlicensed farmers to help transition them into the regulated market, rather than punishing them for growing underground weed.

“The programme focuses on community groups,” Jamaican Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green said in a press release. “So it starts with a group of ganja farmers, and we would have gone in and provided the seeds, provided reduced requirements and we have gone through a learning process.”

The country’s Alternative Development Plan has been running as a pilot program in Accompong, St. Elizabeth, where farmers are now growing regulated cannabis and selling it to the medical industry. So far, 44 pounds have been cultivated from one acre, Green said.

“I would say the pilot has been a success,” he added.

The ADP will now move to other communities to lay the groundwork to provide the Jamaican medical cannabis market with quality-controlled weed, the release said.

The country’s Cannabis Licensing Authority also recently announced it was exploring a transitional permit program to allow small time growers to cultivate and sell medical cannabis for up to 18 months before being licensed.

“We’re looking into a transitional permit for the small farmer. So you’re not able to afford all the things a cultivator license would require right away, but we have to give you a start,” CLA director of enforcement and monitoring Faith Graham said on a Jamaican radio show.

Smoking weed in Jamaica

Cannabis isn’t legal in Jamaica, but was decriminalized in 2015 when the country updated its Dangerous Drugs Act.

Cannabis users can now posess up to 57 grams, or two ounces, of dried flower, but risk being ticketed around US$3 if they’re caught wandering around with it.

Medical patients and people practicing Rastafari are allowed to carry up to 57 grams of cannabis around with them but aren’t allowed to smoke cannabis — or cigarettes — in public.

In 2018, medical dispensaries started popping up on the island state to give locals and tourists a place to get a prescription and smoke some weed.

Lonely Planet describes the dispensaries as “equal parts doctor’s clinic, Amsterdam-style coffee shop and hipster boutique.” They’re also usually cash only, advises the guide.

Jamaican medical market a huge opportunity, says Canadian cannabis company

Last week the Tree of Knowledge International Corp. (CSE: TOKI and OTC: TOKIF) announced it will become the first company to be listed on both the CSE and the Jamaican Stock Exchange.

This move will appeal to new international investors as well as strengthen TOKI’s access to the region as it prepares to open its own medical cannabis clinic in Kingston, Jamaica, Courtney Betty, a consultant for TOKI’s international business development told Mugglehead.

Tree of Knowledge $TOKI $TOKIF is proud to announce that it will become the first company to be cross-listed between CSE and the Jamaican Stock Exchange (#JSE). This is a major step by TOKI to play a leading role Internationally in the $3.5 trillion #health and #wellness industry pic.twitter.com/eyvgaRnynV

— Tree of Knowledge International (@tok_int) January 24, 2020

“The big reason we decided to look at the Jamaican stock exchange is, on the cannabis side, there is an investment the Tree of Knowledge has done,” Betty said. “So being able to access that cannabis grown in Jamaica, those specific unique strains, and develop and include them in our products is a major one.”

TOKI focuses on using medical cannabis to treat pain and — as Jamaica grows some of the best pain-treating weed around — the company wanted to be able to access those strains, Betty said.

Getting listed on the JSE also appeals to the Jamaican diaspora who are always looking for a ways to invest in Jamaica, Betty said. He estimates this new listing will appeal to around 500,000 Jamaican-Canadians, one million Jamaican-Americans and one million Jamaican-British.

“That is access to an additional large investor base,” Betty said.

The company will announce its ticker for the JSE and will be listed on the market within two weeks, Betty said. The company will also be releasing information on its medical dispensary in the coming weeks, he added.

Cover photo “Ganja farm, Westmoreland, Jamaica” from Wikimedia Commons.

Jamaica is working towards stamping out its illicit cannabis market by offering a leg up to farmers growing unlicensed cannabis.