Mexico City

In Jamaica, Ganja Finds You

Finding cannabis in Jamaica is like that dusty Yakov Smirnoff joke about Soviet Russia. In Jamaica, ganja finds you. I bought and smoked marijuana in taxis, on beaches, in nightclubs, and on the streets of downtown Montego Bay — where anyone can get you anything, everyone seems to know a guy who knows a guy, and all those guys seem to know each other. I spent over $10,000 on Jamaican ganja. If that sounds expensive, you’ve never been inside a Jamaican grocery store, where one bottle of beer will run you about $150. Jamaican cash is crazy. The spot exchange rate during my recent trip this year was roughly J$115 to US$1. So that $150 beer cost less than a buck fifty. These economics work to your advantage when purchasing ganja. Even if you’re scared to haggle, you can hedge costs by combining currencies. Haggling is a must though. Jamaica is a buyer’s market for herb, and a better deal is never more than a few doors down.

I’ve been in Jamaica less than an hour. My room isn’t even ready for me, but a taxi driver selling ganja is. He spots me in the sweltering hotel lobby, as I clutch an ice cold rum punch in one hand and a frosty beer in the other, shirt unbuttoned down to Magnum P.I. levels, still churning sweat into my already damp clothes.

“Hey, mon, yuh leavin’ or juss arrive? Yuh need ride?”

“No thanks, waiting on a room.”

“Yuh need some good smoke? I got di bess stuff. Koosh, mon, pure koosh.”

He walks me to his car, lets me in and pulls out two big lumps wrapped in aluminum foil — in my experience, always a bad sign. There’s no legit reason to wrap bud in foil that wouldn’t be addressed by double bagging it or using thicker bags. Dudes selling you something wrapped in foil or paper usually don’t want you to focus too hard on what’s
inside.

He offers both foil lumps for US$100. I unwrap the foil, scoff at the ugly, brown colas tied up inside plastic bags and laugh what becomes a mantra: “Come on, I’m from California, mon.”

A few days later, a peddler in downtown Mo’Bay will chuckle ruefully and give up the sales pitch when I reveal my home state — “Let me juss push dis back down in mi pocket, mon, I know di Cali bud” — but at the moment, the taxi driver doesn’t flinch.

“Ok, I letcha haff both fi eighty.” I shake my head and start to get out, “Come on, mon, one fi $40. I give yuh deal.”

I take one cola — the big one — hand him $20 U.S. plus J$1,000 and call it $30. It’s really more like $28.65, but he accepts the offer with minimal protest. A couple days later, we run into each other in the same lobby and he asks if I need any more smoke — no problem, mon. Thanks, but no thanks.

No matter how hard you haggle, a shitty bag of weed is just that. His contains roughly a quarter ounce of bland, earthy-smelling bud jam-packed with thick, woody stems and seeds. Blazing a gargantuan jay provides a weak, fleeting buzz, but I smoke the bag anyway.
Don’t go to Jamaica expecting Bob Marley’s heirloom Lamb’s Bread or the boutique selection and concierge treatment that burners get in California. Here, the weed mostly sucks. The best is still hermaphroditic outdoor with at least a couple seeds. But when you’re smoking hash spliffs with locals on a powder-soft sandy beach, that’ll be miles from your mind.

I’m walking the sun-drenched coastline of Seven Mile Beach in Negril when I meet a local man sitting in the shade of his beachfront backyard drinking a beer. I ask if I can rest in the shade and share some of my rum with him. He accepts my offer and motions towards a chair beside his.

We down a round of local rum and I offer him a taste of some NorCal medicinal bud … which inexplicably ended up in my luggage. He accepts and shows me his personal stash, some toffee brown bubble hash, which is not for sale but which he’s happy to share with me. We spend about half an hour drinking beer and rum, smoking spliffs, and talking about Jamaican politics and American weed.

To really experience Jamrock you need to break away from the resorts and tourist traps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean getting lost in the jungle. Think about it in San Francisco terms: You could wander aimlessly around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf or you could venture out and — if you play your cards right — end up blazed off dab hits, eating a Mission burrito on a street corner at 3 in the morning.

But honestly, when it comes to buying ganja in Jamaica, it really doesn’t matter where you go. Somebody will try to sell
you some.

I step out of a tour shuttle at a roadside strip mall between Freeport and downtown Mo’Bay. It’s filled with souvenir shops touting double-cost goods at half-price. I decide to discreetly smoke a small joint behind a staircase. Apparently not discreetly enough; a man standing on the sidewalk sees me lighting up.

“Hey, mon, yuh like koosh? I got di bess stuff upstairs in mi sista’s store. Ya, mon, yuh can smoke in der, no problem.”

I follow him up the stairs into a typical Jamaican souvenir shop. He shows me to a counter near the rear and opens up a big plastic tub filled with dark green colas. Unimpressed, I ask to see the good shit.

“What about hash, mon?” I examine a plum sized chunk of black gunk that looks and smells like pipe resin and politely decline. As I’m leaving, the man’s voice calls after me: “Yup want some coca, mon? Yuh like to party?”

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Don’t be afraid to shop around. These days, possession of up to 2 ounces is decriminalized island-wide and most Jamaicans are happy to help you score some. Just be respectful, ask for whatever you want and turn down whatever you don’t. You can smoke herb more places
than you can smoke cigarettes. Just ask.

I’m in downtown Mo’Bay, near the intersection of Church Street and St. Claver Avenue, where cars and pedestrians battle for dominance and the air is thick with spice and sound. A man’s voice shouts a rapid-fire patois advertisement for a sound system party from the roof-mounted speakers of battered Honda as it speeds past the sidewalk peddlers calling out ads for their own goods.

I meet a street vendor selling peeled sugar cane, sliced mangos and, of course, ganja.

He shoves a bouquet of buds towards me talking about, “60 dolla.” One bud catches my eye: an attractive, green nug with good density and a familiar, Humboldt County look about it. I hold onto the green bud and hand back the brown ones.

“This one only, $20.” He balks. I sweeten the deal with J$500. He tells me I’m crazy. I tell him I’m about to miss my bus — does he want the bud or the cash in his hands?

“Ok, pay whatever yuh want.”

The dense, lime green bud — 4 grams or so, less a couple seeds and a single stem — is shockingly potent considering the underwhelming smell and flavor. It doesn’t crack me over the skull with a warm, foam bat like most medical grade dispensary herb, but it isn’t “creeper” either.

The onset while smoking a joint is smooth and gradual, like coasting down a gentle slope into a state of intense relaxation, perfectly suited for gazing into the transparent, green waves of the Caribbean.

Ganja will find you, by land or by sea.

On the last full day of my trip I wake up early, smoke a hearty vegetarian breakfast, and paddle a plastic kayak into the turquoise surf. I encounter a local fisherman dropping wood and wire cages into the water.

I paddle up beside him. “You fishin’ crab?”

“No, mon, Jamaican crab live in di bush. I fish fi fish. You wan I catch crab fi yuh?”

“No, no problem. Thanks, mon.”

“Respect, mon.” He looks back over both his shoulders, towards Cuba, then back at me. Both our little boats bob on the rolling waves for a moment. He smiles.

“Yuh wan’ buy some good smoke? I got di bess stuff — koosh, mon. Pure koosh.”