The adversity of a ganja farmer

Jamaica has legalised cannabis but cultivating large quantities remains an offence. Many farmers are now in a precarious position, as demand for other cash crops declines

There are Hundreds of thousands of illegal cannabis growers in Jamaica. One of them is Hezitroy Wright, a farmer living in the mountains near the town Accompong. Four years ago, the 61-year-old cut down his banana trees and pulled up his sugar cane. In its place, he now grows cannabis on his 400-square-meter farm, as it’s the only crop that can provide for his family.

“We are totally dependent on growing cannabis,” he says. “Out of 100 young men, 95 grow cannabis.”

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It’s a risky business, for despite the fact that Jamaica has legalised cannabis, he still produces far more than the legal limit of five plants and 57 grams. The move to allow cannabis is intended to alleviate pressure on the state budget and free up funding for education and social development.

Farmers like Wright don’t have much choice but to continue breaking the law, he says. There’s simply no other way to put food on the table and send his children to school. Wright was forced to cultivate the psychoactive cash crop after demand for his bananas fell. Meanwhile, sugar cane production is increasingly being centralised on large farms. Around the perimeter of the farm, he still has some banana plants and sugar cane to disguise what else he is growing, but he says the police know what he is up to.

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Every three months, he can harvest around seven kilograms of cannabis, which he sells for around 900 kroner. It’s not much, but it does provide a regular income. Most other crops take about a year before they can be harvested, and there is no guarantee that there will be any demand for them.

“I also grow bananas, but no one wants them.”

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We smoke a joint in his small home. Under the bed is a black bag filled with dried cannabis leaves. I ask whether he really thinks he will be able to provide for his family this way.

“There’s only one thing I can do,” he says, his eyes completely bloodshot. “I’ll have to plant some more.” M

Features, News

By Steffen Stubager

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