Jamaica: A holiday high point

By David McFadden

Ganja tourism is a growing business for Jamaican farmers, writes David McFadden.

Bordeaux and Champagne have their wine tours, and travellers flock to Scotland to sample the fine single malt whiskies. But in Jamaica, farmers are offering trips for a different type of connoisseur.

Call them ganja tours: smoky, mystical (and illegal) journeys to the island's hidden cannabis plantations where pot tourists can sample strains such as "purple kush" and "pineapple skunk".

The tours pass through places such as Nine Mile, the tiny hometown of reggae star and pot-lover Bob Marley. Here, in Jamaica's verdant central mountains, dreadlocked men escort visitors to a farm where deep-green marijuana plants grow in reddish soil.

Similar tours are offered just outside the western resort town of Negril, which has drawn weed-smoking holidaymakers for decades.

"This one here is the original sinsemilla, Bob Marley's favourite. And this one here is the chocolate skunk. It's special for the ladies," a pot farmer nicknamed "Breezy" says as he shows off several varieties on his plot.

While legalisation drives have scored major victories worldwide (the Government of Uruguay is looking at getting into the pot business itself), "ganga" is still illegal in Jamaica.

Some would like to see change, saying Jamaica's struggling economy could be boosted by taking advantage of the island's fame for marijuana, as well as its reputation for beaches, reggae music and sprinters.

"There's already a high degree of marijuana tourism in Jamaica - they just don't call it that," said Chris Simunek, editor-in-chief of High Times magazine in New York.

In Nine Mile, Breezy says Americans, Germans and increasingly Russians have toured his farm and sampled his crop. There were no takers for the $60 tour on the morning I visited among a couple of busloads of cruise ship tourists arriving at Bob Marley's childhood home, though more than a dozen lined up to buy baggies of weed from Breezy's friends, sold through a hole in the wall of the museum compound.

"I can get stronger stuff at home, but there's something really special about smoking marijuana in Jamaica. I mean, this is the marijuana that inspired Bob Marley," says 26-year-old American tourist "Angie".

One tour company promises ganja tours in the Negril area, but first you have to smoke a "spliff" with your guide, presumably to show you are not law enforcement.

"After you smoke a spliff with us ... then we will take you on the best ganja tours in Jamaica and you'll smoke (and eat if you want) so much ganja you'll be talking to Bob Marley himself," the tour website promises.

"The Government needs to free up marijuana soon, man, because it's a natural thing, a spiritual thing," says Breezy.

"And the tourists love it."

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Jamaica is best reached from the United States, with many US airlines flying there.

Weather: Jamaica is warm all year round, though it can get chilly in winter in the higher areas. Peak season is July and August.

- AAP

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