Jamaica’s Marijuana Shortage Branded A “Cultural Embarrassment”

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Hurricanes, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic have all taken their toll on farmers and their crops.

Bad weather and a drop in the number of farmers has led to a marijuana shortage in Jamaica.

Marijuana fields were pummelled by heavy rain during last year’s hurricane season, before being scorched in the drought that followed, leading to tens of thousands of dollars in losses.

“It destroyed everything,” said Daneyel Bozra, who grows marijuana in the southwest of Jamaica.

Strict COVID-19 measures made the situation worse, especially a 6pm curfew that meant farmers could not tend to their fields at night as is routine.

A lack of roads forces farmers to walk to their fields and then to get water from wells and springs. Many were unable to do those chores at night due to the curfew.

“It’s a cultural embarrassment,” said Triston Thompson from Tacaya, a consulting and brokerage firm for the country’s nascent legal cannabis industry.

He added: “Last year was the worst year. We’ve never had this amount of loss. It’s something so laughable that cannabis is short in Jamaica.”

Jamaica, which has long been associated with pot, reggae, and Rastafarians, authorised a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalised the possession of small amounts of weed in 2015.

People caught with two ounces (56 grams) or less of cannabis 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, and Rastafarians are legally allowed to smoke marijuana for sacramental purposes.

But enforcement is patchy, as many tourists and locals continue to buy marijuana on the street, where it has grown more scarce – and more expensive.

Paul Burke, chief executive of Jamaica’s Ganja Growers and Producers Association, said people are no longer afraid of being locked up now that the government allows possession of small amounts.

He said the stigmatisation of cannabis has diminished and more people are appreciating its claimed therapeutic and medicinal value during the pandemic.

But the government’s Cannabis Licensing Authority – which has authorised 29 cultivators and issued 73 licenses for transportation, retail, processing and other activities – said there is no shortage of marijuana in the regulated industry.

Farmers and activists say weed sold via legal dispensaries, known as herb houses, is out of reach for many given that it still costs five to 10 times more than pot on the street.