News Column

Jamaicans Push to Legalize Marijuana

June 9, 2014

By Aileen Torres-Bennett, Special for USA TODAY

This tourist mecca may soon be known as the Colorado of the Caribbean.

Given the ready availability of "ganja" as the locals call it, outsiders may assume marijuana is legal in Jamaica, but it's not ... yet.

Encouraged by legalized marijuana in Colorado, Washington state and Uruguay -- the first country to legalize and regulate the weed -- Jamaican farmers and some politicians want to capitalize on what already is a homegrown industry with an international brand.

Dreadlocked Rastafarians and farmers gathered in Kingston in April to launch Jamaica's Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association. The only thing missing was the smoke. They listened to speakers from Jamaica, the USA and Canada talk about the benefits of the drug.

"The time has come to provide an opportunity for Jamaicans to benefit from the marijuana industry," said Angela Brown Burke, Kingston's mayor and a Parliament senator. Her husband, Paul Burke, is program director of the ganja association and is general secretary of the PNP, the government's ruling party.

The motivation behind the legal pot drive is largely economic. Jamaica's economy has suffered from slow growth, high unemployment (now 13.4%) and high debt for the past two decades, according to the World Bank.

If ganja is decriminalized, "the impact (on) tourist arrivals would be enormous," Archibald McDonald, head of the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force, said, adding he did not speak for the task force. "This will provide the growth in GDP that we need so badly."

The Jamaica Cannabis Conference, organized by the task force and held in late May, released a statement declaring industry regulations could be in place by the end of September. It warned, "Wake up Jamaica, our opportunities are slipping away."

Some could do without such opportunity. "We can do other stuff without marijuana to increase our tourist arrivals" such as build water parks, said Owayne Bolton, a manager at the Hilton in Montego Bay.

Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY

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