Jamaica, the Caribbean country home to more than 2 million people, may be facing a marijuana shortage due to a confluence of factors, including bad weather, fewer overall farmers, and even COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, according to The Associated Press.
“It’s a cultural embarrassment,” Tristan Thompson, an executive associated with the country’s legal cannabis industry, told AP. Thompson said that last year “was the worst” in terms of marijuana loss, and called it “laughable” that the country could be short on it.
Although the Cannabis Licensing Authority, which regulates marijuana in Jamaica, has denied there is a shortage of the drug on the market, others point out that many still buy it outside of regulated shops, where it can be up to 10 times more expensive, reports AP. According to Reuters, figures from the U.S. State Department show that Jamaican farmers, historically, cultivate about 37,000 acres of marijuana each year.
No single factor can account for the apparent shortage of marijuana, or ganja, as it’s called in Jamaica. For example, the country’s marijuana farmers have been dealing with poor weather, including a plant-destroying heavy rain season last year, and a drought that followed it.
The Associated Press reports, however, that other factors have also been contributing, including the now-higher costs of participating in the growing legal market. Activists have also pointed to higher demand from users, prompting theories that decriminalization and the ongoing pandemic made people more willing to use it, reports AP.
Back in 2015, Jamaica amended the Dangerous Drugs Act, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use. While fines still exist for marijuana possession, there is no criminal sentence attached like in the law’s previous version. (According to The Independent, the country’s Dangerous Drugs Act was amended on what would have been the 70th birthday of Bob Marley, the Jamaican-born singer and songwriter who once called the drug “the healing of a nation.”)
Now, many farmers who previously cultivated the drug illegally have decided against growing it due to the costs of compliance. Other farmers have pointed to decreased production due to pandemic restrictions, such as curfews that prohibited people from going out after 6pm, a challenge in an industry in which many farmers cultivate at night.
One farmer who tends to crops at night told the AP that his fields only yielded 300 pounds of marijuana, and said that he can normally harvest twice as much. He estimated that he had lost more than $18,000 as a result of the smaller harvest.
Back in 2019, one Rastafarian marijuana activist, Ras Iyah V., told Reuters that simply applying for an individual grower’s license can cost $300, and business licenses can cost anywhere from $500 to $10,000 annually, on top of renovations needed to bring a farm up to code with legal requirements.