Say “Jamaica” to most Americans and three words immediately come to mind: “mon,” “Marley” and “ganja.”
The first has been peppering conversations and greeting visitors to the Caribbean island for generations. The second is so legendary it doesn’t need a first name; everyone everywhere knows it’s Bob. And the third? Well, as “Jamaica” is to “ganja,” so “ganja” is to “Jamaica”: They’re hopelessly intertwined.
And now the country’s most famous cash crop has become the focus of a winning tourism industry. At the same time, a growing chorus is clamoring for legalization, a cause that could lead the country to join a small but growing movement that promises soon to sweep the hemisphere.
Ganja tours, though technically still illegal, have become a hot ticket on the island. They bring visitors through Jamaica’s secret cannabis plantations, where they can sample strains fresh from the fields.
The tours aren’t all new, but they’re growing in popularity, even as calls for new reform legislation increase.
“There’s already a high degree of marijuana tourism in Jamaica, they just don’t call it that,” said Chris Simunek, editor-in-chief of High Times.
One plantation tour passes through Nine Mile, Marley’s hometown. Another leads tourists to pot farms in the central mountains. Farmers across the island are profiting from these illicit but mostly overlooked getaways for weed aficionados.
Pot has been a major crop in Jamaica for a century. It’s prevalence has dropped off in recent decades thanks to international competition and anti-drug efforts by the U.S. But the country exports more ganja to America than any other in the Caribbean, and tourists have long traveled to Jamaica for the weed.
There are tour outfits available online for travelers looking to plan ahead. One such site, Jamaicamax, plans tours around the town of Negril. But before the fun starts, you have to smoke a spliff with your tour guide to prove you’re not a cop, just like most illegal dealers require here in the States.
Marijuana is “deeply entrenched” in the Jamaican culture, according to a government commission formed more than a decade ago. But politics and worries that American leaders would disapprove kept the government from decriminalizing.
Now the move to make weed legal has picked up steam. Politicians, businessmen, scientists and ordinary citizens are pushing for reforms that would make Jamaica the second country on Earth to legalize weed.
The president of Uruguay is expected to sign legislation soon that will make cannabis legal in that small South American country. Latin America and the Caribbean are viewed by many as the major coming battleground for marijuana reform.