Caribbean Insights: High Time For Jamaica's Marijuana Tourism About Face
Jamaican government officials are taking steps to embrace marijuana-based tourism activity in the country following April’s launch of a law reducing possession of two ounces or less to a violation punishable via ticket, but not a criminal offense.
Wykeham McNeill, the county’s minister of tourism, called the reforms “historic and revolutionary,” saying they place Jamaica among a handful of countries to enact similar legislation. McNeill was speaking at a Negril conference on the new “ganja law,” formally known as the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 2015.
“In years to come, we will look back (with pride) at what has happened here in Jamaica and the changes that have taken (place with) how we treat cannabis,” he said in a report on the government-run Jamaica Information Service website. “We are ahead of the curve.”
Organized by the Beckley Foundation, a U.K.-based non-governmental organization dedicated to scientific research and policy reform involving “currently-controlled psychoactive substances,” the conference, entitled “Jamaica’s Regulated Cannabis Industry: First Steps,” was held at Negril’s Swept Away resort.
The gathering coincided with High Times magazine’s World Cannabis Cup a marijuana trade show and competition held Nov. 12 to 15. The event featured music, demonstrations, seminars and competitions at which officials ranked the best locally produced marijuana from farmers in each Jamaican parish. Jamaican resorts including Couples Negril and Riu Palace Tropical Bay offered packages combining stays with Cannabis Cup event tickets.
Beyond their roles as pioneer events in establishing Jamaica’s newfound official stance regarding marijuana-based tourism, the Cannabis Cup and cannabis conference achieved another Tourism Ministry goal: they brought visitors to the destination.
Many North American visitors have long considered Jamaica to be a country where marijuana smoking was permitted, if not exactly encouraged. Unofficial marijuana tours have operated in Jamaica for years and the drug is generally available in major resort areas.
However prior to the April law, possession of small quantities of marijuana had been a criminal offense. Moreover, despite its good-times reputation, and the fact that marijuana has long been cultivated here as a sacramental substance for the country’s Rastafarian religion, Jamaica is a largely conservative nation where many do not appreciate its international identification with marijuana.
McNeil’s comments indicate a clear change of course for the government’s tourism arm, and an acknowledgement that the marijuana tourism culture may be good for business. McNeill said development of the marijuana industry offers “tremendous” economic benefits and “as we move along, these benefits will come to pass.”
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