Finding cannabis in Jamaica is like that dusty Yakov Smirnoff joke about Soviet Russia. In Jamaica ganja will find you. I bought and smoked marijuana in taxis, on beaches, in nightclubs and on the streets of downtown Montego Bay – where everyone can give you everything, everyone seems to know a man who knows a man, 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 to a Jamaican grocery store, where a bottle of beer will set you back about $150. Jamaican money is crazy. The spot exchange rate on my recent trip this year was about J$115 to US$1. So that $150 beer cost less than fifty dollars. These costs work in your favor when buying ganja. Even if you’re afraid to haggle, you can cover costs by combining currencies. Bargaining is a must. Jamaica is a buyer’s market for spices, and a better deal is never more than a few doors down.
I’m not even an hour in Jamaica. My room isn’t even ready for me yet, but a taxi driver who sells weed is. He sees me in the sweltering hotel lobby, holding an ice-cold rum punch in one hand and an ice-cold beer in the other, shirt unbuttoned to Magnum PI levels, still churning sweat in my already damp clothes.
“Hey, mom, are you leaving or are you arriving? Do you have to drive?’
“No thanks, waiting for a room.”
“You need some good smoke? I have di bess stuff. Koosh, mom, pure kosh.”
He walks me to his car, lets me in and takes out two large chunks wrapped in aluminum foil—always a bad sign in my experience. There’s no legitimate reason to wrap buds in foil that wouldn’t be addressed by double-wrapping them or using thicker bags. Guys who sell you something wrapped in foil or paper usually don’t want you to focus too much on what’s
He offers both foil nuggets for US$100. I unwrap the foil, mock the ugly brown colas tied up in 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 remorsefully and give up the sales pitch when I reveal my home state – “Let me push this back down in my pocket, mon, I know di Cali bud” – but on at this moment the taxi driver does not flinch.
“Okay, I’ll leave them both over eighty.” I shake my head and start to come out: ‘Come on, mon, a fi $40. I give yuh deal.”
I take a Coke – the big one – give him $20 US plus J$1,000 and call it $30. It’s actually more like $28.65, but he accepts the offer with minimal protest. A few days later we run into each other in the same lobby and he asks if I need any more smoke – no problem, Ma. Thanks, but no thanks.
No matter how hard you bargain, a fucking bag of weed is just that. Its contains about a quarter ounce of soft, earthy-smelling buds packed with thick, woody stems and seeds. Blowing on a giant jay creates a faint, fleeting buzz, but I smelled the bag anyway.
Don’t go to Jamaica and expect Bob Marley’s heirloom Lamb’s Bread or the boutique selection and concierge treatment that roasters get in California. This is where the weed usually sucks. The best is still hermaphrodite outdoors with at least a few seeds. But smoking hash spliffs with the locals on a powdery soft sand beach is miles from your mind.
I’m walking along the sun-drenched shoreline of Seven Mile Beach in Negril when I meet a local man having a beer in the shade of his beachfront backyard. I ask if I can rest in the shade and share some of my rum with him. He accepts my offer and gestures to a chair next to his.
We drink a round of local rum and I offer him a taste of some medicinal NorCal 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 is 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 truly experience Jamrock, you need to escape the resorts and tourist traps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you get 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 go out and — if you play your cards right — end up pottering, eating a Mission burrito on a street corner at 3 a.m. in the morning.
But honestly, when it comes to buying ganja in Jamaica, it really doesn’t matter where you go. Someone will try to sell
I get off a shuttle bus at a shopping center along the road between Freeport and downtown Mo’Bay. It is full of souvenir shops that offer double cost goods at half price. I decide to smoke a joint discreetly behind a staircase. Apparently not discreet enough; a man standing on the sidewalk sees me light up.
“Hey mon, yuh like kosh? I have di bess stuff upstairs in misista’s shop. Ya, mon, yuh can smoke in der, no problem.”
I follow him up the stairs to a typical Jamaican souvenir shop. He points me to a counter at the back and opens a large plastic container filled with dark green colas. Unimpressed, I ask to see the good shit.
“What about hash, mon?” I study a plum-sized piece of black gunk that looks and smells like pipe resin, and I politely decline. As I leave, the man’s voice calls after me, “Yeah, do you want some coca, mon? Do you like to party?”
Don’t be afraid to shop around. Today, possession of up to 2 ounces has been decriminalized island-wide and most Jamaicans are happy to help you score some. Just be respectful, ask for what you want and reject what you don’t want. You can smoke herbs in 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 compete for dominance and the air is full of spice and sound. A man’s voice screams a blazing fast sound system party commercial from the battered Honda’s roof-mounted speakers as it races past the street vendors yelling advertisements for their own goods.
I meet a street vendor who sells peeled sugar cane, sliced mangoes and, of course, ganja.
He pushes a bouquet of buds at me while talking about ’60 bucks’. One bud catches my eye: an attractive green bud with good density and a familiar Humboldt County look. I hold the green button and return the brown one.
“Just this one, $20.” He is disturbed. I soften the deal with J$500. He says I’m crazy. I tell him I’m going to miss my bus – does he want the button or the money in his hands?
“Okay, pay what you want.”
The dense, lime-green bud – about 4 ounces, less than a few seeds and a single stem – is shockingly potent given its disappointing aroma and taste. It doesn’t crack me over the skull with a warm, foam bat like most drugstore drug stores, but it’s not “crawler” either.
The onset while smoking a joint is soft and gradual, like descending a gentle slope into a state of intense relaxation, perfectly suited to 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 into the turquoise surf in a plastic kayak. I run into a local fisherman dropping cages of wood and wire into the water.
I paddle next to him. “Do you like crab?”
“No, Mom, Jamaican crab lives in the bush. I fish for fish. You want me to catch crab, yuh?’
“No, not a problem. Thank you, mon.”
“Respect, Mom.” He looks back over both his shoulders, to Cuba and then back to me. Both our boats bob for a while on the rolling waves. He smiles.
“Yuh wan’ buy some good smoke? I have di bess stuff – kosh, mon. Pure kosh.”