Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Wake up and smell the ganja, Mr Bartlett!

Published:Sunday | June 25, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It seems as if Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett can't admit that ganja is one of the major attractions that draw tourists to Jamaica. A friend of mine recently told me about meeting two visitors from Lapland. That's way to the north of Finland. What had brought these Finns all this distance to Jamaica? They said it was ganja.

Last week, I googled 'Ganja tourism to Jamaica'. Mr Bartlett needs to do the same. He might be alarmed to see that we are already positioned as a ganja destination. And we're in excellent company with other upscale leisure markets. Here's a whiff from a UK Guardian report published on September 9, 2013 before ganja was partially decriminalised here.

"California's Napa and Sonoma have their wine tours, and travellers flock to Scotland to sample the fine single malt whiskies. 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 island's hidden cannabis plantations, where pot tourists can sample such strains as 'purple kush' and 'pineapple skunk'."




At the recent Caribbean Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Conference held in Montego Bay, Minister Bartlett is reported to have said, "We are not into the smoking and recreational thing, but rather, the medicinal health and wellness side." But why is it either or? Why not both?

I suppose Mr Bartlett is using the royal 'we' to refer to himself and his own opinions. I can't imagine that his position is widely shared by all members of parliament. Surely, the Government of Jamaica must know that our ganja is a highly valued commodity for both recreational and medicinal use. Brand Jamaica is mostly sun, sand, sea, sex and sensi!

By the way, 'sensimilla' comes from Spanish. 'Sin semilla' means without seeds. Unfertilised female ganja plants produce flowers without seeds. The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of these buds is much higher than that of the fertilised ones. And so generations of reggae artists have sung the praises of sensimilla. As Yellowman puts it, "Cocaine will blow your brain but/The sensimilla is irie." It's not everybody's brain that can manage ganja. We can't afford to forget that.

The distinction Bartlett makes between the 'recreational thing' and the 'health and wellness side' is not as clear-cut as he presumes. Recreation is therapeutic. Health and wellness are sustained by leisure. All work and no play will definitely make us sick.

Rastafari have long advocated the use of ganja as the holy herb for the healing of the nation. Their 'livity' is rooted in the wisdom of Hippocrates: "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Or, to put it 'itally', let ganja be thy medicine and medicine be thy ganja.




The Jamaica Tourist Board has been sensibly using ganja to sell Jamaica for a long time. Just think of that image of Bob Marley with his spliff. It wasn't even subliminal advertising. That was conscious marketing, on the surface and in your face. Marley, Jamaica and ganja were all synonymous. No smoke screen!

Tony Rebel has consistently mocked the hypocrites in high places who have been exploiting ganja to sell Jamaica to tourists and, at the same time, criminalising its use by Jamaicans: "How yu fi advertise Jamaica wid a spliff in Bob mout? An if yu catch a man wid it him gone a criminal court?" Now that the use of ganja has been partially decriminalised, there are new opportunities to use the holy herb to sell Jamaica without hypocrisy.

Rebel Salute, Jamaica's premier roots reggae festival, attracts large numbers of local and international tourists. At the December 2015 press launch, Mark Golding, then minister of justice, made the historic proclamation that Rebel Salute would be the first event for 2016 to receive exemption under the new legislation: "Therefore, no one will be subject to prosecution as it relates to the possession of marijuana at the event."

Getting to the event is another matter. If the police stopped you en route, I don't think telling them you were going to Rebel Salute would exempt you from prosecution if you had more than the two-ounce limit on your person. So vendors need to get special consideration.




The tourism minister was also in the news last week for his contentious recommendation to take crime off the front page of our newspapers. Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), he urged the media to be more sensitive in their reporting of crime.

I sympathise with the minister. I still remember the days when The Gleaner used to publish on the front page, every single day, in bold black letters, the steadily rising number of murders! Jamaican media houses could take lessons from Barbados. Crime there is kept undercover because tourism is so vital to the Barbadian economy. The fiction of an unquestionably 'safe' Barbados is carefully scripted by the local media for international consumption.

It is true that there are tourists who enjoy going to dangerous destinations. You know the types who climb the highest mountains and swim the deepest seas. But if I had to choose between ganja and danger as Jamaica's global brand, I would definitely go for the sensi.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to and