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'Cultural Embarrassment:' Jamaica Running Low on Weed

Rain, drought, pandemic, legalization, fewer farmers all mean less ganja on the island
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 8, 2021 10:05 AM CST

(Newser) – Jamaica is running low on ganja. Heavy rains followed by an extended drought, an increase in local consumption, and a drop in the number of marijuana farmers have caused a shortage in the island's famed but largely illegal market that experts say is the worst they've seen. "It's a cultural embarrassment," said Triston Thompson, chief opportunity explorer for Tacaya, a consulting and brokerage firm for the country's nascent legal cannabis industry. Jamaica, which foreigners have long associated with pot, reggae, and Rastafarians, authorized a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalized small amounts of weed in 2015. People caught with 2 ounces or less are supposed to pay a small fine and face no arrest or criminal record. The island also allows individuals to cultivate up to five plants, reports the AP, and Rastafarians are legally allowed to smoke ganja for sacramental purposes. But enforcement is spotty, as many tourists and locals buy marijuana on the street, where it has grown more scarce—and more expensive.

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Heavy rains during last year's hurricane season pummeled marijuana fields that were later scorched in the following drought, causing tens of thousands in losses. "It destroyed everything," said Daneyel Bozra, who grows marijuana in southwest Jamaica. Worsening the problem were strict COVID-19 measures, including a 6pm curfew that meant farmers couldn't tend their fields at night as is routine, said Kenrick Wallace, 29, who cultivates 2 acres with 20 other farmers. Wallace estimated he lost more than $18,000 in recent months and cultivated only 300 pounds, compared with an average 700 to 800 pounds. Activists say they believe the pandemic and a loosening of Jamaica's marijuana laws has led to an increase in local consumption that has contributed to the scarcity, even if the pandemic has put a dent in ganja-seeking tourists. "Last year was the worst year. ... We've never had this amount of loss," Thompson said. "It's ... so laughable that cannabis is short in Jamaica."

(Read more marijuana stories.)

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