(AP) NINE MILE, JAMAICA – Napa has its wine tours and travelers flock to Scotland to sample the fine single malt whiskies. But in Jamaica, farmers are offering a different kind of trip for a different type of connoisseur.
Call them ganja tours: smoky, mystical — and technically illegal — journeys to some of the island’s hidden cannabis plantations, where pot tourists can sample such strains as “purple kush” and “pineapple skunk.”
The tours pass through places such as Nine Mile, the hometown of reggae legend Bob Marley. There, in Jamaica’s central mountains, dreadlocked men escort curious visitors to a farm where deep-green marijuana plants grow out of the reddish soil. Similar tours are offered just outside the western resort town of Negril, where a marijuana mystique has drawn weed-smoking vacationers for decades.
While legalization drives have scored major victories in recent months in places such as Colorado and Washington state, and the government of the South American nation of Uruguay is moving toward getting into the pot business itself, the plant is still illegal in Jamaica, where it is known popularly as ganja.
Some would like to see that change, with increasingly vocal advocates saying Jamaica could give its struggling economy a boost by taking advantage of the fact the island is nearly as famous for its marijuana as it is for beaches, reggae music and world-beating sprinters.
Justice Minister Mark Golding said the government is aware of legalization efforts elsewhere, and called the issue “dynamic and evolving quickly.” “We will be reviewing the matter in light of the recent developments in this hemisphere,” Golding said of decriminalization.
The Ganja Law Reform Coalition, an island group that is calling for the government to decriminalize and regulate pot, is preparing to host an international conference in the capital of Kingston later this month, where topics will include prospects for cannabis commercialization.
Despite its laid-back international image, Jamaica is a conservative, religious place and many people bristle at the country’s Rasta reputation. Marijuana has been pervasive but prohibited on the island since 1913. The illicit marijuana crop has declined since the 1970s due to global competition and the U.S.-led war on drugs. Still, Jamaica is the Caribbean’s leading supplier of pot to the U.S. and tourists often do not need to look any farther than their hotel lobby for assistance buying weed.
“There’s already a high degree of marijuana tourism in Jamaica; they just don’t call it that,” said Chris Simunek, editor-in-chief of the magazine High Times.
An online vacation guide called Jamaicamax promises to organize ganja tours in the Negril area. But there’s a caveat: First you have to smoke a marijuana spliff with your guide, presumably to show you are not law enforcement. “After you smoke a spliff with us and we get to know you then we will take you on the best ganja tours in Jamaica and you’ll smoke (and eat if you want) so much ganja you’ll be talking to Bob Marley himself,” the travel website says.
For now, the island’s marijuana trade remains in the hands of locals and turf wars fueled in part by ganga profits continue in many parts of Jamaica. But advocates say decriminalization or legalization will shift profits away from gangs, freeing money that now goes for arresting and jailing pot users.
For some guides, any reform couldn’t come soon enough. “The government needs to free up marijuana soon, man, because it’s a natural thing, a spiritual thing,” Breezy said before sticking his nose in a clump of pot plants and taking an appreciative sniff. “And the tourists love it.”
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