Pubdate: Sun, 22 Sep 2013
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2013 The Seattle Times Company
Author: David McFadden, The Associated Press


(AP) - California's Napa and Sonoma valleys have their fancy wine
tours, and travelers flock to Scotland to sample the fine single-malt
whiskeys. 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 Caribbean island's hidden cannabis
plantations, where pot tourists can sample such strains as "purple
kush" and "pineapple skunk."

The tours pass through places like Nine Mile, the tiny hometown of
legendary reggae musician 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 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.

"This one here is the original sinsemilla, Bob Marley's favorite. 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 legalization drives have scored major victories in recent months
in Washington and Colorado, 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, in an email.

Pervasive but prohibited

Despite its laid-back international image, Jamaica is a conservative,
religious place where 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
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 toured his small farm and sampled his crop. There were no takers
for the $50 tour on 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 baggies of weed
from Breezy's friends, sold through a hole in the wall of the museum

"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. She identified herself only as Angie due to the fact the
pot she was crumbling into a rolling paper is illegal both at home and
in Jamaica.

An online vacation guide called Jamaica MAX 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.

Marijuana tourism

More than a decade after a government commission said marijuana was
"culturally entrenched" and recommended decriminalizing personal use
by adults, influential politicians and business people are pushing for
Jamaica to cast off old fears of angering the U.S. and loosen up laws.

Henry Lowe, a prominent Jamaican scientist who helped develop a
cannabis-derived medication to treat glaucoma in the 1980s, said the
island could quickly become a hub of marijuana tourism and research.
"People could come down to Jamaica for medical-marijuana treatment and
health tourism because this has been our tradition, our culture."

Indentured servants from India are thought to have brought the plant
to Jamaica in the 19th century. Its use as a medicinal herb spread
rapidly, with some people using ganja tea to alleviate aches and
others using rum-soaked marijuana as a cold remedy. By the 1970s,
marijuana became even more popular due to Rastafarian reggae stars
like Marley and Peter Tosh.

For now, criminal gangs dominate the island's marijuana trade, and
turf wars fueled in part by pot profits have long plagued gritty parts
of Jamaica. But advocates say decriminalization or legalization would
shift profits away from gangs, freeing money that now goes for
arresting and jailing pot users.

For Breezy and his friends, any reforms couldn't come soon

"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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MAP posted-by: Matt