Besides being a very popular holiday destination, the Caribbean island of Jamaica is also famously known for being the birthplace of Rastafarianism, reggae and its affinity to marijuana.
And though authorities in the country only decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug in 2015 and gave the green light for the regulation of a local medical cannabis industry, ganja – as it is locally known – has long been regarded as a part of Jamaican culture.
As the demand for the use of the drug for both medicinal and recreational purposes has spiked up, the island nation is experiencing a shortage as a result of last year’s heavy rains, a subsequent extended drought as well as a decline in the number of cultivators and an increase in local consumption, the Associated Press reported. Experts told the news outlet the current shortage and situation is the worst they’ve seen.
“It’s a cultural embarrassment,” Triston Thompson, a chief opportunity explorer for a consulting and brokerage firm for the Caribbean nation’s legal cannabis industry, said.
The situation has largely affected farmers who illegally cultivate the drug, costing them tens of thousands of dollars in losses. The drug’s scarcity on the streets and its current high demand by tourists as well as locals has also led to an increase in its price.
“It [the heavy rains] destroyed everything,” Daneyel Bozra, a marijuana farmer in the Maroon village of Accompong, said.
Another farmer also told the news outlet the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety measures the government put in place to mitigate its spread on the island, has aggravated the situation. According to Kenrick Wallace, the government-imposed 6 p.m. curfew means they cannot visit their farms in the evening to tend to the plants. He also said the lack of roads meant many of them had to walk to their farms and also to get water for the plants.
Wallace also revealed he has lost over $18,000 in the last months and has only been able to cultivate 300 pounds as compared to the usual 700 to 800 pounds he and his colleague farmers cultivate on their 2-acre farm.
Activists who spoke to the Associated Press said the current shortage and scarcity is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s now relaxed marijuana laws, saying it has led to an increase in local demand and consumption.
“Last year was the worst year. … We’ve never had this amount of loss,” Thompson said. “It’s something so laughable that cannabis is short in Jamaica.”
The situation is also being reportedly laid bare by tourists in search of the scarce drug as they post about its scarcity on travel websites. The CEO of Jamaica’s Ganja Growers and Producers Association, Paul Burke, told the news outlet the stigmatization that was previously attached to the drug is fading out and people are no longer afraid of going to jail. Currently, people caught with up to two ounces are neither criminally charged nor arrested. It only attracts a fine. Citizens are also allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants.
Burke also explained the drop in the number of local farmers was a result of their inability to financially meet the demands required to be able to grow the plant legally, adding that the police are also destroying “good ganja fields.”
Though Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority said the country’s legal dispensaries haven’t experienced any shortage, activists and farmers told the Associated Press ganja sold at those places cost five to ten times more than what is sold on the streets.