Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

Legalizing Marijuana- Jamaica’s New Big Man Ting

1 Comment

J. Michal Forbes

Some call it tamjee
Some call it the weed
Some call it marijuana
Some of them call it ganja

Never mind, got to legalize it
And don’t criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it [ii]

Nearly forty years after Peter Tosh sang about legalizing marijuana, Jamaica is finally embracing their reputations as the land of gangja.[iii] For years, travelers have flocked to Jamaica to enjoy sandy beaches, warm weather, and smoke marijuana. However, many travelers do not know that possession of marijuana in Jamaica was illegal until late last year.


Peter Tosh, Jamaican reggae musician

In 2015, Jamaican lawmakers passed an act to both decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and to establish an agency to regulate lawful medical marijuana use on the island.[iv] Due to its location and untampered natural resources, Jamaica is currently the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States and the surrounding Caribbean islands.[v]   Marijuana and cocaine are regularly trafficked from and through Jamaica into other Caribbean nations, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. There have been numerous unsuccessful policies implemented in both the US and Jamaica attempting to prohibit the transportation of marijuana into the United States.

However, because numerous states in the United States and Canada are softening laws on marijuana, Jamaica is hoping this will be a chance to bolster Jamaica’s international trade and provide job opportunities to rural farmers throughout the country. This could prove to be a lucrative industry for these farmers, especially since Jamaica’s poverty rate remains high. Since the 1980s, Jamaica has experienced serious problems with both poverty and a high unemployment rate. The unemployment rate in Jamaica is currently around 15% and the poverty rate is roughly 16.5%, the highest it’s been since 1997.[vi]

A tour guide shows marijuana growing openly in a flower garden

Jamaica’s consistently high poverty and employments rate is due largely in part to the country’s slow economic growth. In the past 30 years, Jamaica’s annual GDP growth rate has been less than one percent, making Jamaica one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world.[vii] Jamaica has been looking for a “niche” export to both remedy its slow economic growth and provide sustainable long term employment opportunities. While Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce are excited about the many opportunities for Jamaica to become a standout country in a regulated and legal marijuana industry, the United States is not so please with the change.[viii]

How will Jamaica’s attempt to enter the international medical marijuana industry affect Jamaica’s current trade relationships? With marijuana being embraced by the Jamaican government, many wonder if this means marijuana could potentially be traded to the US. Currently the top exports from Jamaica are Aluminum Oxide, Hard Liquor and Raw Sugar. The top export destinations are the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, all of which ban marijuana nationally.

When initially asked his reaction to the new marijuana laws in Jamaica, William Brownfield, the US assistant secretary for counter-narcotics affair said “Jamaican law is of course Jamaica’s own business and Jamaica’s sovereign decision”. However, he did emphasize that the traffic of marijuana into the US remains illegal.


Though decriminalized in a number of U.S. states, Congress has still held that marijuana is a dangerous drug and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act of the United States.[ix] In addition, the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988, which mandates that nations limits the production, trade, use and possession of drugs is still law and strictly prohibits marijuana.[x]  With whispers of the Canadian Government taking steps towards legalizing marijuana and the United States government receiving pressure to do the same, it is possible that there could be major upcoming changes to the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which is almost 30 years old.[xi] It is possible that Convention will be marijuana will be amended to remove marijuana from the list of prohibited drugs since its use is becoming widely accepted, for both medical and recreational use, in numerous countries around the globe.

In the meantime, Jamaica can revel in the fact that this new marijuana legislation could bolster its tourism industry, as well as its economy as a whole. There are truly big man tings coming.

J. Michal Forbes is a proud native of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Ms. Forbes has a fiery passion for international law, travel and frozen yogurt. After receiving her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore she taught ESOL in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area before joining the US Peace Corps in 2011. Ms. Forbes served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine from 2011 to 2013, in a small town between the Red Sea and the Black Sea in Crimea. Fluent in Russian, Ms. Forbes soon caught the travel bug and traveled/worked extensively throughout Eastern Europe during her 27 month commitment. Currently a 3L, Ms. Forbes is a member of the International Law Society, Immigration Law Society, Black Law Student Association and the Women Lawyers as Leaders Initiative. She has worked for Maryland Legal Aid and the NAACP’s Office of the Attorney General. She was recently awarded the honor of being named Article Editor with the University of Baltimore Law Forum, a scholarly legal journal focused on rising issues in Maryland. It is her dream to work for the U.S. government assisting with asylum seekers and refugee. In her free time, Ms. Forbes enjoys eating frozen yogurt with her husband and learning Arabic.

[i] Big Man Ting is Jamaican Patois Slang referring to a situation that is serious adult business

[ii] Lyrics from Peter Tosh- Legalize It, http://www.metrolyrics.com/legalize-it-lyrics-peter-tosh.html

[iii] Peter Tosh- Legalize It, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABc8ciT5QLs

[iv] Jamaica decriminalises marijuana, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/25/jamaica-decriminalises-marijuana.

[v] U.S. Department of State Country Report: Jamaica, http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2016/vol1/253277.htm.

[vi] Jamaica’s Unemployment Rate, http://www.tradingeconomics.com/jamaica/unemployment-rate

[vii] The World Bank: Jamaica, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/jamaica/overview

[viii] Jamaica Could Stand Out in Ganga Industry- Minister Hylton, http://jis.gov.jm/jamaica-could-stand-out-in-ganja-industry-minister-hylton/

[ix] Marijuana Reserouce Center: State Laws Related to Marijuana, https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/state-laws-related-to-marijuana.

[x] The International Drug Control Conventions  available at https://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CND/Int_Drug_Control_Conventions/Ebook/The_International_Drug_Control_Conventions_E.pdf.

[xi] Marijuana legalization in Canada: What we know and don’t know, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/marijuana-legislation-knowns-unknowns-1.3660258; Marijuana Legalization: Could 2016 Be The Year Federal Law Derails The Cannabis Movement, http://www.ibtimes.com/marijuana-legalization-could-2016-be-year-federal-law-derails-cannabis-movement-2258515.

Author: Ius Gentium

Ius Gentium is a legal forum for the University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows to write on and discuss international and comparative legal issues.

One thought on “Legalizing Marijuana- Jamaica’s New Big Man Ting

  1. You mentioned briefly that the economic growth in Jamaica has slowed tremendously. Is there a reason for economic stagnation that you found in your research? Further, will Jamaica now be earning tax revenue from the sale of legalized marijuana?

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