Written by Isobel T

Jamaica, a Caribbean paradise renowned for its crystal-clear waters, delicious cuisine, upbeat reggae music and, more recently - marijuana. There’s no denying that thanks to musical icon Bob Marley, alongside the Rastafarian movement, Jamaica has been repeatedly linked to marijuana, also commonly known as ‘ganja’ on the island. But despite common beliefs, did you know it is actually illegal in Jamaica?

Almost 217,000 Brits visit Jamaica every year, and each year several people are arrested for drug-related offences. These range from being caught smoking marijuana, to drug trafficking, which has become more notorious in Jamaica over the last few decades. So many tourists from all over the world slip up and make the same mistakes, not realising that Jamaica has some incredibly strong penalties for drug related offences, so we’re here to help you stay safe on your travels.

The blunt laws behind it all…

In 1913, the Ganja Law was passed in Jamaica to ban cannabis, and over the 20th century, drug laws like this increasingly tightened. Up until 2015, even the possession of the smallest amount of marijuana was illegal and would have harsh repercussions, including imprisonment and a criminal record. In 2015, the possession of two ounces or less became a ‘non-arrestable, ticketable offence, that attracts no criminal record’, that also made exemptions for medical, scientific and Rastafarian religious reasons for smoking marijuana.

However, this reduction of laws surrounding cannabis possession and consumption is exclusive to marijuana, and definitely does not signal that Jamaica is relaxed about the issue – smoking ganja (and even cigarettes) in public is still prohibited and will result in a fine of J$500, so even if you see vendors openly selling pre-rolled ‘spliffs’ in Kingston street parties, be aware that this is still illegal. Other scams have evolved to take advantage of the tourist interest in marijuana on the island too, with people offering cannabis plantation tours. These plantations are specifically for medical marijuana and for use in the Rastafarian religion, and remain unlicensed and therefore illegal, so be sure to turn these down!

Any more than the legal amount now can result in very harsh consequences, including a prison sentence in Jamaica – and unlike some of Jamaica’s beautiful resorts, these prisons are far from luxurious. All prison sentences have to be served in Jamaica in prisons that have been described as overcrowded, insect-infested, unsanitary and overall, very poorly managed. One report tells of an ‘open gutter running along the front of the cells, filled with stagnant water and rotting food’. These are not prisons anyone would like to find themselves in, so tourists must bear this in mind when making any decisions abroad that could lead to this.

What if the drugs aren’t mine?

Jamaica has become a significant transit point in the Caribbean for drug trafficking (particularly cocaine trafficking) between South America and either North America or Europe. This has led to a severe crackdown on those found with drugs in recent years. In 2018, a young British mother was left facing 35 years in prison after being caught with two kilos of cocaine (worth £1.2million) in her suitcase lining, having been groomed into drug smuggling by her then-boyfriend. More recently, Real Jamaican Radio (RJR) reported in September this year that they had arrested a British woman attempted to smuggle a pound of cocaine in her bra onto her flight to Birmingham too. To avoid the heavy sentences served in the harsh prison environments, always pack your own cases and don’t accept anyone else’s luggage as ultimately, you will be the one held responsible as Jamaica take drugs and drug smuggling very seriously.

Should I just stay at home?

No, definitely not! Jamaica is an amazing holiday destination with so much to offer from their beautiful landscapes and rich culture. Most tourists have a completely trouble-free trip, and it’s very easy to make sure that you don’t end up high and dry (quite literally). Just make sure that before any trip, you have a quick look at the Foreign Office’s travel advice covering 225 countries, so that you’re fully prepared for any international laws, customs, and safety notices.