California’s Napa and Sonoma have their wine tours, and travellers 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 tiny hometown of reggae legend, and famous pot-lover, Bob Marley. Here, in Jamaica’s verdant central mountains, dreadlocked men escort curious visitors to a farm where deep-green marijuana plants grow. Similar tours are offered just outside the western resort of Negril, where a marijuana mystique has drawn weed-smoking holidaymakers for decades.
“This one here is the original sinsemilla, Bob Marley’s favourite. And this one here is the chocolate skunk. It’s special for the ladies,” a pot farmer nicknamed “Breezy” told a reporter as he showed off several varieties on his plot one recent morning.
While US legalisation drives have scored major victories in recent months in places like Colorado and Washington state, and the government of Uruguay is moving toward getting into the pot business itself, the plant is still illegal in Jamaica.
‘Breezy’ shows off the distinctive leaves of a marijuana plant. Photograph: David Mcfadden/AP
Some would like to see that change, with advocates saying that marijuana could help Jamaica boost its struggling economy. Justice minister Mark Golding told the Associated Press the government was aware of legalisation 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 decriminalisation in an email.
The Ganja Law Reform Coalition, an island group calling for the government to decriminalise and regulate pot, is preparing to host an international conference in the capital, Kingston, this month – where topics will include prospects for commercialising cannabis.
Despite its laid-back image, Jamaica is mainly 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 US-led war on drugs.
Still, Jamaica is the Caribbean’s leading supplier of pot to the US and tourists often don’t 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, based in New York.
In Nine Mile, Breezy says Americans, Germans and increasingly Russians have visited his small farm and sampled his crop. There were no takers for the $50 (£32) tour this morning among a couple of busloads of cruise-ship tourists arriving at Bob Marley’s childhood home, though more than a dozen lined up enthusiastically to buy bags of weed from Breezy’s friends, sold through a hole in the wall of the museum compound.
“I can get stronger stuff at home, but there’s something really special about smoking marijuana in Jamaica. I mean, this is the marijuana that inspired Bob Marley,” said a 26-year-old tourist from Minnesota who only identified herself as Angie, as she crumbled some weed into rolling papers.
An online holiday guide called Jamaicamax promises to organise ganja tours in the Negril area. But there’s a caveat: first you have to smoke a 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.