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Jamaican Cannabis Uncovered Part I: Quantifying & Analyzing Jamaican Strains

Nico Escondido

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In November 2014, Jamaica’s Minister of Justice Mark Golding met HIGH TIMES’s long-time chief attorney Michael Kennedy and associate publisher Rick Cusick when they were visiting Harvard University law professor Charles Nesson in Cambridge, MA. Golding was Nesson’s guest. It was there that Kennedy and Cusick broached the idea to Golding of mounting a Cannabis Cup in Jamaica.  What enabled this event to happen was that Jamaica's 2015 reform legislation provides a window for exempt events which are organized "for the primary purpose of celebrating or observing the Rastafari faith". 

This provision in the legislation, which is rooted on Jamaica’s Constitutional protection of the right to religious freedom, enabled Ras Iyah V and Rastafari In Inity to apply for Rastafari Rootzfest to be approved as an “Exempt Event.” The law speaks to the "primary" purpose of the event. This flexibility allowed the Rastafari organizers to host HIGH TIMES, so that the Rasta event could include Jamaica's inaugural Cannabis Cup. HIGH TIMES' role and presence in the event was possible only through our association with the Rastafarian organizers of the event.

As the idea unfolded, I learned a lot about the country, their people, their mixed cultures—and their ganja. In fact, one of the deeper desires and goals of this event was to learn as much as possible about the cannabis in Jamaica, something their government and their people wanted to happen before the industrial onslaught that comes with cannabis legalization.

With the easing of political pressure and the loosening of marijuana prohibition laws in Canada and the United States, the Jamaican government sits poised to lift the ban on marijuana in their country. It is something they have wanted to do for decades, to be perfectly honest, as several sects of their population already have rights related to cannabis cultivation and consumption.

The Maroons, the closest Jamaica has to an indigenous people, have their rights intact for cannabis use, much like Native Americans have gambling and cannabis rights on their U.S. reservations. And, of course, the Rastafarian people have their cultural rights too, holding cannabis as a sacred sacrament in their religion.

And now the Jamaican Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Commerce all have keen interests in what comes next.

For a relatively impoverished country whose economy depends on tourism, and whose biggest icon is cultural stalwart Bob Marley, cannabis represents a huge opportunity for the country—a possible ticket to a new, burgeoning legal industry that can help drive jobs, economic improvement and cultural understanding.

But when it comes, what will happen to the people who have been farming ganja there for over a hundred years? What will happen to the farmers living off the land, deep in the interior of the island, who feed their large, extended families by selling cannabis to tourists on the beaches and to other close-by isles of the Caribbean? Won’t big money interests from the U.S. and Canada simply come down and swallow them up? Will the traditional Jamaican strains be hybridized, bastardized and bred out?

While a Cannabis Cup obviously cannot answer all of these economic questions or solve some of the cultural dilemmas Jamaica may soon be confronted with, there are some aspects of this budding campaign that we can help with, namely the quantifying and analyzing of Jamaican ganja.

One of the key points in the proposals set forth by the Jamaican government in authorizing this event and granting amnesty to HIGH TIMES and our local partners to conduct this competition was that we use everything at our disposal, including our lab partners, our expert judges and our comprehensive cannabis scoring algorithm—a system known as the HIGH TIMES Scorebook—to ascertain just exactly what Jamaica had in terms of locally grown cannabis. Needless to say, we were happy to oblige. Here’s some of what we found…

Categories & Average THC Values

HIGH TIMES took in a total of 65 flower and hash samples for our first-ever Jamaican Cannabis Cup.

To be quite honest, this was more than we expected, showing that the people of Jamaica are serious about their ganja. However, in order to conduct a fair competition for all involved, we had to separate the categories into two groups: “Traditional Farming” and “Modern Growing.” The latter category encompassed the few indoor samples we encountered, as well as growers who used modern outdoor techniques, such as automated irrigation, advanced nutrient programs and imported genetics. The “Traditional” category was reserved for outdoor-only grows and was further subdivided into “Indica” and “Sativa” categories.


White Tangerine Haze, 3rd Place (Modern Technique), Sun Spice, Igadi Global Jah

The average THC value for the Indica category came in at 10.1%. The average THC value for the Sativa category came in at 10.4%. The highest THC values in each category stood out at 17.8% in Indicas (Kevie Skunk from St. Bess’ Ganja Growers Association) and 15.4% for Sativas (Cole #2 from St. Ann’s Botanical & Agro Processing Co-Operative). The Cole #2 took home 3rd Place in the Sativa Cup.


Kevie Skunk, 17.8% THC, St. Bess’ Ganja Growers Association

Surprising Amount of High-CBD Strains Found

Two out of 22 entries in the Sativa category exhibited high (over 3%) amounts of CBD, while 8 out of 26 (or 31%) of the entries in the Indica category tested for high-CBD. This was surprising on two sides; First, we had not expected to find more than one or two high-CBD strains (maybe that was naïve) so the 8 in the Indica category was a pleasant surprise; Second, we would expect a higher rate of occurrence for high-CBD strains in sativas, however it must be noted that is was very difficult to ascertain whether or not some of the samples entered were really a sativa or indica (more on that below).


Black Willy, 9.2% CBD, Accompong Maroons

Of the 10 total high-CBD strains discovered, the highest tipped the scales at 9.2% CBD. Not too shabby. However, this was a Sativa entry from the Accompong Maroons, who may have already seen some of their native varietals become hybridized with North American genetics. In the Indica category, two strains went over 7% CBD, including one called Garvey #1 from St. Ann’s Botanical & Agro Processing Co-op in the island’s northern most parish.


Garvey #1, 7.1% CBD, St. Ann’s Botanical & Agro Processing Co-op

Hybridization Has Already Begun

Organizing the entries from parishes (i.e., provinces or states) around the island was one thing—growers obviously knew their own geographic location on the island. But, as previously mentioned, trying to categorize the cannabis into the correct sub-species of indica or sativa was no easy task.

Many farmers did not know or have a strain name for their entry, and the ones that did usually used some variation of “Skunk” or “Haze.” This could mean that these terms have become generic words for ganja in general, making it easier to sell to tourists, or this could indicate what we had long suspected, which was that hybridization of original “Jamaican” strains had already begun as early as the 1980’s or 90’s when the cannabis genetics trade really began in Amsterdam.

Before the 80’s, going back into the 70’s and 60’s, cannabis strains were still mostly pure. Many of the landrace genetics (the original sativas and indicas) that came from Africa, Indica, Southeast Asia and Central and South America were still prevalent. It is likely that one or two of these made it to the shores of Jamaica as well and that one or two original landrace indicas and sativas grew for many decades on the island untouched.

However, in the decades since, Jamaica’s tourism has increased exponentially, and the Bob Marley allure, as well as the Rastafarian culture, has attracted many pot smoking visitors, many of whom brought their own ganja to the island and that ganja likely had seeds.

The best we could do was to talk to farmers about their plants. Did they grow tall or short? For how long did they flower? What types of effects did their smoke produce? Many of these answers were not clear at the onset.

By the end of the competition, after judges had smoked them and labs had tested them, it seems clear that many varieties were less than pure. Had the past 20 or 30 years of canna-tourism subjected Jamaican ganja to hybridization? Or were the original strains to first appear on the island already a muted blend of original landrace genetics?

More information will be forthcoming as we get full cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles from the lab, which will be running HPLC tests next week. This is a good place to mention that Steep Hill Labs, Inc. based in Berkeley, CA has partnered with University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) based in Kingston to aid us in analyzing entry samples for the Jamaican competition as well as the ensuing research, development and educational initiatives by the university, the Jamaican government and HIGH TIMES.

One or Two Original (Pure) Strains Still Exist

As an educator, as well as one of the founders of the Cannabis Genetics Institute in Holland, I have an insatiable desire to preserve cannabis genetics and help reinvigorate the cannabis gene pool in today’s age of extreme hybridization, feminized seeds and clone-only strains. My hope in conducting a Cannabis Cup in Jamaica was to identify one or two pure landrace strains. I am happy to report that this mission was accomplished.

During the long trek around the entire island to collect entries for the competition, the intake crew took a long detour on a dirt road into the mountainous area of the interior. There was one farmer growing one particular strain that our Rasta guides insisted had to be a part of the Cup. They were right.

After two hours of bumpy road, the group arrived at a hillside where we were greeted by a farmer who showed us his special herb—the “Longtime weed, mon!”

At first, I thought it was called this because it had been growing for many, many years untouched and unadulterated by any other cannabis. However, the “longtime” reference was in connection to its flower time, which seemed to go for stretches as long as 20 weeks, depending on the time of year she was planted.


The Longtime Weed, Pure Jamaican Sativa

In the end, this was the closest thing to a pure sativa that we had found on the island, and it was exactly the type of true-breeding landrace genetics I was hoping to find. Over the two weeks in Jamaica, we identified a couple of other strains that were similarly close to being a pure indica or pure sativa, and those samples are being taken to specialized labs for work in cannabis genome mapping and analyzing.

Thanks for reading everyone and remember: Grow… And help the world grow, too!

Stay tuned next week for another Jamaican-based feature on improving the cache of island grown ganja using some simple cultivation techniques that we identified to help local farmers compete in their upcoming legal cannabis market!

Got questions? Email ‘em over to Nico at NicosNuggets@hightimes.com and be sure to put “Nico’s Nuggets” in the subject line!

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