Jamaica Can’t Shake Status As US’ Top Marijuana Provider

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A series of marijuana seizures reported over the last few months highlight the magnitude of the drug flow from Jamaica to the United States, as well as the difficulties authorities have in stemming it. 

During a November 22 operation, six men were arrested after the seizure of 1,000 pounds of marijuana in the port city of Ocho Ríos, the Jamaica Gleaner reported. The haul was valued at $4.5 million in the US market. 

The latest seizure came after two earlier marijuana busts in the same city. In early October, police discovered about 1,000 pounds during a raid. Days before that raid, authorities had captured 500 pounds of marijuana, Caribbean news outlet Loop reported. 

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In August, authorities seized about 7,000 pounds of marijuana in a district neighboring Ocho Ríos. The marijuana — valued at $36 million — was packaged and appeared ready for export.  

According to the latest US State Department report on international drug control strategies, most of the marijuana leaving Jamaica is headed for the United States. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent seizures show that Jamaica’s steps to stop large quantities of marijuana continue flowing out of the island have been toothless. Corruption at Jamaica’s ports and airports facilitates the movement of drugs, and local organized crime bosses have ties to government officials, “creating a permissive environment for drug trafficking,” the State Department report stated.

According to the report, factors that have contributed to the island nation becoming one of the hemisphere’s key drug trafficking points include the country’s location in the Caribbean, its difficult-to-patrol shores, and its role as a container transshipment point. 

Jamaica’s popularity as a tourist destination also facilitates the movement of drugs via small boats and private aircraft, according to the report.   

The Jamaican and US governments have tried to stop the flow for years with bilateral cooperation agreements. Both countries uphold judicial assistance and extradition treaties in order to facilitate the prosecution of traffickers. The countries also collaborate on enforcement efforts to interdict maritime trafficking. 

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In 2019, the two countries signed a bilateral Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) to formalize the exchange of information between US and Jamaican customs agencies to help control the flow of drugs, arms and other contraband smuggled through legal ports of entry. 

In 2015, Jamaica decriminalized possession of marijuana, allowing citizens to carry small quantities of 57 grams or less, for personal use.

By passing this law, the country hoped not only to reduce micro-trafficking on the island and the burden on the judicial system, but also to encourage the development of a legal marijuana industry that could in turn promote tourism around regulated marijuana consumption.

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