Last month, Jamaican tourism minister Edmund Bartlett spoke at the opening of the Caribbean Cannabis Conference at the Montego Bay Convention Centre. He noted that the government is considering the corridor from Negril in Westmoreland Parish to Black River in St. Elizabeth Parish in southwestern Jamaica as a possible site for the construction of a health and wellness center. One aspect of the center will be therapies and treatments that utilize cannabis products.
“We can do a level of product diversification that would enable us to be attractive to all demographics … and what we have seen is that cannabis-infused experiences have added much to health and wellness,” he said.
Jamaica may be salivating at reports coming from the U.S. about the growth of marijuana-themed travel. According to report by New Frontier and ArcView Market Research, the size of the market for legal marijuana in the U.S. is projected to grow to $7.1 billion in 2016, representing 26 percent growth over the previous year, driven largely by adult recreational sales of marijuana.
Since Jamaica’s major market comes from the U.S. (with 1.3 million visitors in 2015), it’s only natural that the island sees the potential for marijuana-themed travel based on who’s coming their way.
Marijuana — by all its various names, including cannabis, pot, ganja, herb and weed — has long been part of the Jamaican mystique. While marijuana was illegal in Jamaica up until 2014, it was easy for tourists to find sellers eager to accommodate their needs with small amounts of the product during a vacation.
Currently, one of the most prevalent places for marijuana use during a visit to Jamaica is at Nine Mile, the site of Bob Marley’s birthplace and his mausoleum. For many travelers, smoking a joint at Nine Mile is considered an appropriate way to honor the memory of the legendary reggae musician. There are also marijuana farm tours affiliated with Nine Mile, such as those offered by Hot Box Bud & Breakfast. Tour operator Caribbean Vacations has marijuana tours at a variety of locations around the island, including Orange Hill in Westmoreland Parish.
Jon Baker, considered a trendsetter in Jamaica because of the way he has enlivened the Port Antonio scene with his company, has some insider opinions. Baker is the co-founder of Geejam Collection, which consists of Geejam Hotel & Recording Studio and a group of luxury villas in Port Antonio. Over the years, Geejam has been drawing global influencers in music, fashion and art to its villas — including one of the ambassadors of herb, rapper Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion as he’s sometimes called) — in deference to Baker’s embrace of Jamaican culture.
“I think, more than ever, Jamaica is ready to take advantage of marijuana tourism,” Baker said. “Our country has had one of the longest histories in herb, starting all the way back from the days of the Maroons [runaway slaves who created their own communities] to being one of the largest illegal suppliers to the U.S. It is embedded into the culture, from the religion of the Rastafari all the way to the tourists that have been coming for years to enjoy our local music, culture and vibe.”
“I think Port Antonio is actually more suitable for the luxury chic vs. the rustic chic aspect of marijuana-themed travel outlined for the St. Elizabeth corridor,” he added. “I can definitely imagine marijuana becoming part of the Geejam experience.”
A 2015 study from the Pew Research Center shows that attitudes in the U.S. about marijuana are undergoing a shift. A 53 percent majority of Americans say that marijuana use should be made legal. This figure is even higher when millennials are polled, with 68 percent of them supporting its legalization.
“Jamaica, unlike Colorado, has the vibe and the culture built in,” Baker said. “Whereas in Colorado there are really no legal places to consume and enjoy your medicine, Jamaica can really capitalize on this.”
Agents should advise their pot-loving clients to still tread lightly when traveling to and from Jamaica. While it’s true that marijuana use in Jamaica is emerging from the shadows, it’s still not 100 percent legal, and in no way should travelers consider traveling back to the U.S. with some leftover ganja in their bags.