Growing Ganja in Jamaica

Ganja in Jamaica is more than just the cannabis plant; it’s a culture, a way of life, and an expression of people from varying cultural backgrounds who ended up on the Caribbean Island via the plantation model. The British monarchy was responsible for the cultural clash that saw enslaved Africans and indentured laborers co-mingling and participating in the smoking of ganja after a day’s work in the sugarcane plantations. This unique phenomenon gave birth to Rastafari, a religious and political movement rooted in African culture with Emperor Haile Selassie I from Ethiopia as its redeemer, the red, green, and gold colors, and the use of the chillum pipe. Furthermore, the profound impact of Indian influence on the vegan diet, the growing of dreadlocks, and the use of ganja as a sacramental herb have contributed to ganja being an endemic part of Jamaican culture.

High Times Magazine, March 2024

Jamaica lies 18° north of the Equator, a tropical paradise surrounded by the Caribbean Sea where the sun shines perpetually with slight variations in photoperiod throughout the year. The island’s biogeography presents ecologically diverse habitats from high elevations to coastal plains, rainforests to dry limestone forests, and expansive freshwater ecosystems. The islanders’ symbolic love for patronizing the cannabis plant through the expression of performing arts from reggae icons like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and so many more has situated ganja synonymously with Jamaica.

The artisanal production of ganja in Jamaica represents the ingenuity of the cultivators who reside in these various microclimates throughout the island catering to a plethora of different demographics of consumers located in tourist areas on the north coast, rural townships, urban ghettos, and middle- to upper-class communities. The cultivation methods, post-harvest practices, types of genetics, pricing structure, farm sizes, and distribution method present varying disparities in quality dynamics intended for the various local markets.

Sunny Hill, St. Thomas

The lush rainforest habitat to the southern, eastern side of the island is one of the rural areas where ganja farmers tend to trek into the hills to cultivate on lands cleared to facilitate maximum sunlight throughout the day. The farmers grow genetics they have replicated in regular seed production for several generations and cultivate directly into the local soil substrate. The intended market is the local townships in the parish.

Nine Mile, St. Ann

The farming community of Nine Mile, located in the limestone hills of the parish of St. Ann Jamaica, is the birthplace and resting place of reggae superstar Bob Marley. The Bob Marley Mausoleum is situated on the property where Marley spent his formative years as a young boy growing up. The ganja farmers in this community grow an equatorial cultivar that has a long flowering time with the purpose of the collection of charas finger hash, which is primarily marketed to the consistent busloads of tourists who visit Marley’s shrine daily.

Slipe, St. Elizabeth

The community of Slipe is located on the island’s south coast in the Black River Morass, Jamaica’s largest freshwater wetland ecosystem. The ganja farmers of this community use an interesting mode of transportation—canoes—to tend to their plants daily. This community has developed a hydroponic method of cultivation where the peat from the bog is raised above the water table in long snakelike beds, and the ganja plants are cultivated densely. The seeds are germinated near households and transported as hardened seedlings by canoe through tiny channels cleared from the tall sawgrass to traverse the river. The farmers of this community typically get their germplasm from the neighboring parish of Westmoreland. The plants don’t tend to pass 4 feet in height, with seedling to harvest taking place in 10 to 12 weeks.

Orange Hill, Westmoreland

The community of Orange Hill is located on the western tip of Jamaica near the resort town of Negril. The entire parish of Westmoreland is known for some of the best high-grade ganja on the island. Residents from this western parish tend to flaunt the slogan “The best comes from the West.” The community produces strains of ganja well known to the Western world and modern-day palate with terpene profiles of fruity, gassy, and citrus flavors. The plants are grown in plastic pots or fabric bags using supplemental lighting to generate larger biomass during the vegetative growth period. On harvest day, the plants are placed in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms to facilitate the drying process. The ganja produced in this area is known to supply the resort towns of Negril and Montego Bay, where the tourists tend to pay, on average, a higher price for the commodity.

Happy Gate, St. Andrew

Happy Gate is situated on the foothills of the Blue Mountain near the capital city of Kingston. The ganja farm is located on the steep slopes of the hillside where the warm orange rays of the sunset dip over the western horizon. The plants grown are hybrids of California origin, where supplemental lighting is used to increase biomass production for the short flowering times of these cultivars. Post-harvest rooms here and in Orange Hill are typically equipped with an air conditioning unit and a dehumidifier for drying and curing.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.

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