By Dr. Laura J White As the most powerful storm since Hurricane Felix (2007) approached Jamaica on Monday, I began thinking about Jamaican agricultural exports from a new perspective. Some reading will recall what we in the agricultural trade world refer to as the “banana war” – a 6-year dispute between the US and European Union over the origins of billions of tons of bananas – and it seems as though Jamaica may have learned some lessons. This Caribbean nation is eyeing a new area of agricultural trade: cannabis and cannabis-infused products. Yes, we are talking about the antediluvian days of the global cannabis trade, but just like Bill Murray in What About Bob?, Jamaica will need to “baby steps” its way into a functioning, legal cannabis market. In the spring of 2015, Jamaica decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, known as the Dangerous Drugs Act or, locally, as the ganja law. Partly to deal with increasingly burdensome petty criminal cases, partly to guarantee the island’s Rastafarians’ religious rights, and partly to adjust to changes in Jamaica’s tourism industry, the “Cannabis Licensing Authority” (CLA) was born. Jamaica is not, of course, the only country increasingly tolerant to cannabis possession, sale, transport, and/or cultivation (see table below). Uruguay possess the most tolerant marijuana laws; the possession, sale, (domestic) transport, and cultivation have been fully legal and regulated since 2013. The US is in the same tolerance tier as countries like Israel, Spain, and Portugal, which are widely regarded as having liberal attitudes towards cannabis consumption. India’s marijuana laws are interestingly similar to those in the US. In this 2016 US election, recreational marijuana is on the ballot in 5 states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada); whereas, medical cannabis is up for the vote in 4 new states (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota). Marijuana-Tolerant Countries[1][2]
Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4 Tier 5
Cambodia Australia Argentina Italy Greece
Uruguay Belgium Austria Macedonia Moldova
Canada Bolivia Poland
Chile Croatia
Colombia Czech Republic
Costa Rico Ecuador
Germany Estonia
India Paraguay
Israel Peru
Jamaica Switzerland
Puerto Rico
United States
  • Tier 1: possession, sale, transport, and cultivation fully legalized/decriminalized
  • Tier 2: legalization/decriminalization for possession + sale, transport, and/or cultivation; more legalization/decriminalization for medical purposes
  • Tier 3: possession decriminalized
  • Tier 4: decriminalized for medical and/or religious use
  • Tier 5: possession or possession, transport, and cultivation tolerated, not legalized/decriminalized
Jamaica is known for extraordinary strains of cannabis and for ideal natural growing conditions. With the 2015 ganja law and the CLA setting up airport kiosks for locals and tourists to obtain legal access to cannabis in 2016, Jamaica’s “green economy” is poised for massive growth. Renowned Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe expects the sale of medical cannabis and nutraceuticals – food products offering medical benefit – to inject $300 million into the Jamaican economy within the next 3 years. Dr Lowe and other Jamaican officials are eyeing a prospective expansion of the legal cannabis market as a source of long-term export development, a concern for many post-colonial island nations in this epoch of globalization. Watch a couple episodes of Viceland’s Black Market starring Michael K Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, and the advantages of a legal cannabis trading network become pretty apparent. From my experiences with and research on the cartel in Mexico, the Italian mafia’s waste removal services in Umbria, and (illegal) cross-border trade in fruits and vegetables in central and east Africa, illegal markets and trade offer little sustainable economic or social benefit. The increased legalization and decriminalization of marijuana globally offers Jamaica at least 34 prospective export destinations for medical cannabis and nutraceuticals, including the US – the largest single-country import market. However, there’s one monumental hurdle to the legal trade of cannabis between nations that have legalized or decriminalized. The Netherland’s Transnational Institute highlights that: “there are three United Nations [UN] treaties that together form the international law framework of the global drug control regime: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol; the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, and the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.” The UN opposes increasing legalization, decriminalization, and/or tolerance to any drug, including marijuana, and there have been widespread calls for the UN to reassess its position, including an open letter signed by over 1,000 global political, economic, and philanthropic leaders from all continents (save Antarctica). In April 2016, current and former presidents, prime ministers, lawmakers, law enforcement officers, doctors, celebrities, and business and faith leaders called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to reconsider the UN’s drug conventions, stating that: “humankind cannot afford a 21st century drug policy as ineffective and counter-productive as the last century’s.” This brings us back to Jamaica – where proponents of the ganja law hope to end cycles of poverty and criminality for Afro-Caribbean males disproportionally affected by intolerant laws in a country with widespread tolerance to cannabis – and What About Bob? Despite the growing economic success of legalized cannabis – like Bob’s increasing therapeutic progress with psychiatrist Dr Leo Marvin – the UN, international trade regime, and business powers-that-be have little vested interest in supporting a progressive, legal cannabis trading network. Similar to Bob’s “baby steps”, Jamaica, the prolific island nation that has brought the world culinary and cultural divinity – jerk chicken, Red Stripe, ackee and saltfish, bananas, reggae, ska, dancehall, dub, the inspiration for James Bond, Usain Bolt, and a silly movie about bobsleds, to name a few – could use the ganja law to slowly introduce legal cannabis exports. First, global leadership will need to move mountains, particularly within the UN system, but something tells me that this Caribbean nation that emerged as a volcano from the seafloor has the capacity to take the green economy into unchartered waters, just as Bob eventually became a pioneering psychiatrist whose success drove Dr Leo Marvin insane. Stranger things have happened… no one ever thought recreational cannabis would be legal in the US, much less generating millions of dollars in tax revenue. See also: About the contributor: Dr Laura J White is an international trade specialist with expertise in agricultural trade and informal trading networks. She earned her doctorate from the University of Manchester (UK) in 2015, which focused on executive leadership in global trade and development with extensive field research at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland. She currently works for a trade consultancy in Georgetown. [1] Please do not use this table as a guide as to where you can legally possess, sell, transport, or cultivate marijuana. I am trade specialist, not a lawyer. [2] Seconded!  Literally everything on this site is at your own risk.  I just burnt my tongue on a pumpkin spice latte, for gosh sake!  We are extremely grateful for the talented Dr. White's contribution to the site and we look forward to featuring her insights regularly here at