Travel agents know it’s not exactly insider information that Jamaica’s relaxed marijuana laws have always made the island a draw for cannabis-lovers looking to light up from their ocean view villas without being harassed.
But would making marijuana legal worldwide, or at least throughout the Caribbean region, weaken Jamaica’s unspoken advantage over other destinations?
As the cannabis culture celebrates the unofficial 4/20 holiday, we felt it was the perfect time to tackle this cloudy issue.
The travel experts TravelPulse spoke to say Jamaica’s experience and care for growing cannabis will make the island an even bigger attraction as the drug becomes more acceptable amongst Americans.
“Jamaica would still have an advantage,” said George Andritsakis, an advisor with Snelgrove Travel Center in Layton, Utah. “From what I know, you can only get certain kinds of pot there. So, there will still be that niche market going for those specific strains. And if the resorts get into the game, they could come up with packages and activities geared toward the potheads, which would add to their bottom line.”
In fact, according to the Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica offers a whopping 98 percent variation in its marijuana strains, which could equate to billions of dollars in earnings when the local medical cannabis industry takes off, University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Wayne McLaughlin told the newspaper.
And although the global legalization of marijuana may not be in the foreseeable future, legalized pot in Jamaica seems like it could happen any time now.
“It will,” said Donnie Dawson, the Jamaica Tourist Board’s (JTB) deputy director of tourism for the Americas, when asked in December at Jamaica’s annual White Affair in Montego Bay if marijuana would eventually be fully legalized in Jamaica. “I think it will over time. It’s like prohibition, I guess. It will happen. Colorado’s a good example, making lots of money off of it. I think money will speak larger than anything else. When people see, and politicians see, that hey, we can make some money here. Let’s look at the green of it.”
And perhaps agents should be looking at the “green of it” as well.
With medicinal marijuana facilities already legal in Jamaica, the legalization of recreational marijuana could be right around the corner. And if that happens, a plethora of marijuana-focused tour operators will be competing for licenses to legally sell experiential tours focusing around cannabis, and its historical and religious ties to the country of Jamaica.
“There is already a budding marijuana tourism industry revving up,” said Stephen Scott, owner of Travel Hub 365 and an advisor with Protravel International in Chicago. “I wouldn’t mind having a great go-to [destination management company] in certain destinations, so that I can faithfully support clients that would like to visit places around the world that have significance in history, with influential people in the industry, or meet-up events with locals that can immerse them in a global community of peers.”
According to Rolling Stone, “cannabis for medical, scientific or therapeutic uses is legal for licensed businesses or for patients with a doctor’s note. Foreigners in Jamaica can swiftly obtain approval from a local physician, or else use a valid medical marijuana recommendation from their home state or country to buy cannabis from a legal business.”
Under Jamaica’s amended Dangerous Drugs Act, possession of two ounces or less of cannabis will no longer be considered an offense for which a person can be arrested, charged and tried in court and it will not result in a criminal record.
“Well, I think there will always be some guidelines enforced to maintain order and control,” said Darlene Rhoden, CEO of The TravelNet in Mississauga, Ontario and one of the Top 50 Jamaica travel agents invited to last year’s White Affair, told us. “There are pop-up shops coming up in every parish with spots to buy a medicinal marijuana card and purchase weed at the same time. So, I do not know how much further the law will be modified. I assume you start small and see how it goes.”
According to the Jamaica Observer, Kaya Farms, home to Jamaica’s first legal medical cannabis dispensary, celebrated its grand opening on March 10 of last year. Kaya Farms and sister companies, Kaya Herbhouse, Kaya Spa, Kaya Cafe and Kaya Tours, offer a variety of services for Jamaicans and tourists, including the sale of marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, according to the report.
A look into the Island Strains Facebook page shows quite the mascot on the street advertising for doctor’s recommendation.
So far, the government has issued 15 business licenses, according to Rolling Stone.
And the fact that it is being positioned as a “health and wellness” offering, said Philip Rose, JTB’s regional director for the Northeast U.S., shows that the JTB is looking to offer this for the sophisticated traveler and not the party traveler.
“In keeping with global trends and demands, Jamaica has opened up open-air lounges for medicinal marijuana use,” said Rose. “This is part of our health-and-wellness push and has already been successful in attracting new visitors to our shores.”
But is marijuana even something that clients typically ask agents about?
“Funny enough, considering the amount of inquiries I get, weed is never one of them,” said Rhoden. “I think clients just have a perception that Jamaica is weed heaven, so they just know if they come to Jamaica, they will surely find what they want.”
However, that could change if the country’s inventory of legal marijuana facilities becomes too robust to properly vet without a client feeling overwhelmed.
And that smells like an opportunity for agents and suppliers as tourists look for ways to relax and or party with cannabis, just as they have here in the states like Colorado, Nevada and California.
There’s money to be made in marijuana tourism. Given Jamaica’s long-established relationship with ganja, and it’s stunning location to one-up the competition, the sky’s the limit.
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