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fields destroyed Jamaica faces ‘worst ever’ marijuana shortage as farmers struggle with drought

The country authorised a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalised small amounts of weed in 2015.

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FILE – In this Aug. 29, 2013 file photo, farmer Breezy shows off the distinctive leaves of a marijuana plant during a tour of his plantation in Jamaica’s central mountain town of Nine Mile. While the island has a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalized small amounts of weed in 2015, it is running low on the illegal market, due to heavy heavy rains followed by extended drought, an increase in consumption and a drop in the number of traditional marijuana farmers. (AP Photo/David McFadden, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 29, 2013 file photo, farmer Breezy shows off the distinctive leaves of a marijuana plant during a tour of his plantation in Jamaica’s central mountain town of Nine Mile. While the island has a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalized small amounts of weed in 2015, it is running low on the illegal market, due to heavy heavy rains followed by extended drought, an increase in consumption and a drop in the number of traditional marijuana farmers. (AP Photo/David McFadden, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 29, 2013 file photo, farmer Breezy shows off the distinctive leaves of a marijuana plant during a tour of his plantation in Jamaica’s central mountain town of Nine Mile. While the island has a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalized small amounts of weed in 2015, it is running low on the illegal market, due to heavy heavy rains followed by extended drought, an increase in consumption and a drop in the number of traditional marijuana farmers. (AP Photo/David McFadden, File)

Jamaica is running low on ganja.

Heavy rains followed by an extended drought, an increase in local consumption and a drop in the number of marijuana farmers have caused a shortage in the island’s famed but largely illegal market that experts say is the worst they have seen.

“It’s a cultural embarrassment,” said Triston Thompson, chief opportunity explorer for Tacaya, a consulting and brokerage firm for the country’s fledgling legal cannabis industry.

Jamaica, which foreigners have long associated with pot, reggae and Rastafarians, authorised a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalised small amounts of weed in 2015.

People caught with 2oz or less of cannabis are supposed to pay a small fine and face no arrest or criminal record. The island also allows individuals to cultivate up to five plants, and Rastafarians are legally allowed to smoke ganja for sacramental purposes.

But enforcement is patchy as many tourists and locals continue to buy marijuana on the street, where it has grown more scarce — and more expensive.

It’s something so laughable that cannabis is short in JamaicaTriston Thompson

Heavy rains during last year’s hurricane season pummelled marijuana fields that were later scorched in the drought that followed, causing tens of thousands of dollars in losses, according to farmers who cultivate pot outside the legal system.

“It destroyed everything,” said Daneyel Bozra, who grows marijuana in the south west of Jamaica, in a historical village called Accompong founded by escaped 18th-century slaves known as Maroons.

Worsening the problem were strict Covid-19 measures, including a 6pm curfew that meant farmers could not tend to their fields at night as is routine, said Kenrick Wallace, 29, who cultivates two acres in Accompong with the help of 20 other farmers.

He noted that a lack of roads forces many farmers to walk to reach their fields — and then to get water from wells and springs. Many were unable to do those chores at night due to the curfew.

Mr Wallace estimated he lost more than 18,000 dollars in recent months and cultivated only 300lb, compared with an average of 700lb to 800lb the group normally produces.

Activists say the pandemic and a loosening of Jamaica’s marijuana laws have led to an increase in local consumption that has contributed to the scarcity, even if the pandemic has put a dent in the arrival of ganja-seeking tourists.

“Last year was the worst year. We’ve never had this amount of loss,” Mr Thompson said. “It’s something so laughable that cannabis is short in Jamaica.”

Paul Burke, chief executive of Jamaica’s Ganja Growers and Producers Association, said people are no longer afraid of being locked up now the government allows possession of small amounts.

He said the stigmatisation of ganja has diminished and more people are appreciating its claimed therapeutic and medicinal value during the pandemic.

Mr Burke also said some traditional small farmers have stopped growing in frustration because they cannot afford to meet requirements for the legal market while police continue to destroy what he described as “good ganja fields”.

The government’s Cannabis Licensing Authority — which has authorised 29 cultivators and issued 73 licences for transportation, retail, processing and other activities — said there is no shortage of marijuana in the regulated industry, but farmers and activists say weed sold at legal dispensaries known as herb houses is out of reach for many given that it still costs five to 10 times more than pot on the street.

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