Despite its ganja-loving reputation, marijuana was illegal in Jamaica for more than a century. But recently, Jamaican lawmakers decriminalized the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. Here's what that means for U.S. tourists looking to smoke.
1. Although toking up is still not technically legal, tourists sparking up a joint have generally been ignored. The biggest beneficiaries of the law change will be the residents themselves, who had to worry about relatively large fines, a night in jail, and a criminal record. Now the worst-case scenario for both locals and visitors is getting a ticket and a fine of about $100 American dollars — one less reason to get paranoid.
2. Marijuana was already exceedingly easy to obtain before decriminalization, so that won't change. Tourists are approached almost as soon as they step off the plane. Cab drivers and hotel workers remain good sources. Expect to pay about $100 for an ounce of low-grade pot, says Abi Roach, owner of tour operator HotBox Jamaica. "Offer to smoke with your source, and he'll likely sell you some of the better kush reserved for locals." If you have a medical-marijuana prescription, you'll be able to buy from a government-sanctioned facility at some point in the future, but those details have yet to be worked out.
3. Will this be the first step toward full legalization? All signs point in that direction, Roach says, but the Jamaican government plans to follow a very methodical course while monitoring the reaction from its residents, as well as the U.S. and rest of the world.
4. Pot has always been a major, if unspoken, driver for tourism, and that will only increase with the new regulations. Don't think for a second that the Jamaicans haven't watched the tourism booms in Washington and Colorado after those states legalized pot. The push for decriminalization was started by officials wanting to protect their piece of the pie. For years, HotBox Jamaica and others have been offering tours of Bob Marley's birthplace, Nine Mile, and other marijuana farms, but expect these type of tours to remain somewhat under the radar until the plantation owners can grow more than five plants legally.
5. Jamaica will continue to enforce its strict laws against transporting and trafficking drugs, National Security Minister Peter Bunting told the Associated Press, so don't try to sneak your remaining stash into your carry on for the flight home.