The trending ‘#trashtag’ just got a boost from cannabis: free weed for beach clean up in Jamaica.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve heard of the #trashtag challenge. #trashtag came about as a response to our planet’s growing waste problem, and particularly the ticking time bomb of plastic waste choking our oceans. The challenge invites social media users to take the initiative and clear up the trash from their local environment, posting before and after pictures with #trashtag on social media. But in Jamaica, one hostel has upped the ante by creating a #trashtag incentive which is hard for cannabis pilgrims to ignore – free weed!
The Germaican-Hostel in Port Antonio is offering free weed for anyone willing to pitch in to keep the local beaches clean. The rules are simple: collect a bucket of trash, get a free joint!
The idea is the brainchild of Marian Erbach, a German expat living in Jamaica and working at the hostel. He was sick of seeing his local beach covered in plastic waste. Marian and his hostel guests do what they can to help, and regularly make a point of collecting trash from local beauty spots on their island tours; they do this outside of any #trashtag social media glory.
Recently, Marian spotted an opportunity to recruit more helpers. So he rolled fifty-six joints, each containing a gram of Jamaican good stuff.
Is That Even Legal?
Jamaica has long been famous for its cannabis culture. Thanks to the global success of Jamaican reggae, the island is firmly established in global culture as a ganja hotspot, decades before places like Colorado, Canada, and Uruguay became known for their own laid-back approaches. However, many don’t know that cannabis is not legal in Jamaica.
Still, Marian chose the number fifty-six for a good reason. Jamaica, has possession of up to two ounces of cannabis isn’t subject to criminal penalties. Jamaica’s decriminalization came in 2015. Because of it, personal use of cannabis is widely tolerated by law enforcement. Residents are even permitted to grow up to five plants at home. Adherents to the Rastafari faith, who consider cannabis a sacrament, can legally use cannabis for religious purposes.
Medical Cannabis in Jamaica
Jamaica’s 2015 legislation also created a legal medical cannabis industry on the island. The government plans to capitalize on the country’s reputation for cannabis, which has long formed an important part of Jamaica’s economy, even during the days of prohibition.
Last year, Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Audley Shaw, signalled his government’s commitment to developing Jamaica’s medical industry. He notes that other countries are “rushing” ahead in the race for the “multibillion-dollar global industry.” Shaw is clear: Jamaica can’t afford to miss the boat. He suggests Jamaicans be “bold” and “move with a deep sense of urgency.”
Shaw is right; Jamaica needs to get its skates on if it means to stay ahead on cannabis. The island is already a hub for cannabis research. But, the vultures are already circling in the form of Canadian cannabis companies, including Aphria and Canopy Growth. They plan to cash in on Jamaica’s cheap labor, perfect climate, and favorable business environment.
Locals Are Being Muscled Out of Jamaica’s Cannabis Industry
Some local cannabis entrepreneurs are sounding alarms due to the presence of multibillion dollar foreign corporations in Jamaica’s industry. Courtney Betty, CEO of Jamaican medical cannabis business Timeless Herbal Care recently spoke with the Financial Post.
“I don’t think some of the companies coming in to do business here want to understand the social realities of Jamaica, or the real history of ganja in my country,” he says. Continuing, he says “I don’t think it is out of ignorance; I think this is just the way Western companies conduct business abroad.”
Betty worries that foreign cannabis giants could “replicate this country’s sugarcane plantation history.” Here, Betty is referring to the dark period of Jamaican history – when imperial powers used slavery to ruthlessly exploit the island for its famed production of sugar and rum.
The Jamaican Cannabis Industry
Just like many US states, the process to become a medical cannabis producer in Jamaica is expensive. This puts locals, whose average salaries are sometimes as low as USD $150 per month, at a huge disadvantage.
The situation spells disaster for Jamaica’s subsistence farmers. Farmers whose families have grown cannabis for generations risk foreign corporations pushing them to the sidelines to line their own pockets. All this in a country that has long been victim to unwelcome outside influences.
Former Jamaican justice minister Mark Golding summs up islanders’ feelings on the matter. “To the Canadians, all I can say is, don’t look at Jamaican cannabis as a typical money-making industry for you. Be sensitive to the history of Jamaica, and the realities of Jamaican society.”
When it comes to publicly traded Western companies for whom profit and stock prices are king, his pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears. If Jamaica wants to avoid foreigners swallowing its cannabis industry whole, the island’s government will need to take control of the situation – and soon.