In 2015, Jamaica decriminalized small amounts of cannabis and established the Cannabis Licensing Authority, which is currently setting up regulations for the cultivation, distribution, manufacture, transportation and consumption of medical cannabis on the Caribbean island, long known for reggae music and ganja.
Oaksterdam University, the first cannabis college in the United States, is in its second year of partnering with several Jamaican organizations. In addition to providing guidance regarding medical cannabis regulations, best practices and education for those interested in working in this nascent industry, Oaksterdam is also planning to conduct R&D and establish an official OU campus on the island.
Jamaica is earnestly working to create a friendly climate for foreign investors. Perhaps the immediate opportunity for economic growth lies in “ganja tourism,” which has the potential to provide the same kind of economic success seen in adult-use states like Colorado and Washington. As Jamaica moves forward, there’s also a strong desire to work with local farmers who’ve been growing cannabis for many years.
The burgeoning cannabis industry is expected to evolve with very positive outcomes. One example is Rastafari Rootzfesti, a three-day event at Long Bay Beach Park in Negril that celebrates Jamaica’s indigenous culture. The festival launched in November 2015 as a legal event after receiving approval from Jamaica’s Cabinet and Ministry of Justice. In 2016, the event was sponsored by the Tourism Enhancement Fund of the Ministry of Tourism, and endorsed by the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Negril Chamber of Commerce and the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers’ Association.
“We worked with a wide circle of strategic partners in the Rastafari, grassroots and cannabis fraternities to ensure the sustainable success of Rastafari Rootz- fest as an annual calendar event for Jamaica’s cannabis, tourism, wellness and entertainment industries,” explains Ras Iyah V, who leads the festival’s management team.
The festival offers much to see, smell and eat. Senator Mark Golding and Minister Delroy Chuck participated in the opening ceremonies on Dec. 9. More than 75 exhibitors—including ganja companies, entrepreneurs and grassroots farmers—showcased their products and services, such as edibles, lotions, roots beverages and accessories.
As the major sponsor, Oaksterdam University focused on providing educational seminars for attendees to empower the Rastafarian and grassroots communities to connect with economic opportunities in Jamaica. Presentations by Jimmy Sadegi, Gene West, Dr. Cliff Riley, Junior Gordon, myself and many others focused on cannabis cultivation and extraction, economics and business opportunities. Oaksterdam University also awarded scholarships to the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers’ Association and the Hanover Ganja Growers’ Association.
Music ruled the evenings, with performances by Freddie McGregor, Andrew Tosh, Richie Spice, Half Pint, Sister Carol, Prince J, and Protoje and the Indiggnation Band. Performances of Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It (which became a global anthem for the ganja movement 40 years ago) and Spice’s “Marijuana Pon De Corner” were crowd favorites.
The Ganjamaica Cup and awards ceremony, produced by Ras Iyah V and the Rastafari In Inity team, captured the essence of the festival. Rastafarian elders were acknowledged for their role in Jamaica’s journey, and cup winners— UTECH Ganja Lab, Tender Buds, Island Kaya, UWI Department of Science, Ital Steam Chalice, Terpenes Plus, Root-house and Isreadtech—happily accepted their awards. In addition, tribute was paid to Peter Tosh’s pioneering work as a militant ganja advocate and an ambassador for Rastafarian culture.
The sharing of a special steam chalice among visiting guest Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation of British Columbia and Rastafari representatives Ras Iyah V and Sister Terry, whose presence signaled a newer attitude regarding the role of Jamaican women in the ganja movement, was a major highlight.
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