Jamaica’s Cannabis Roots: The History of Ganja on the Island

How Cannabis Came to Jamaica
Jamaica was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1494, but was not colonized by the British government until about 1655. From 1655 until the mid-1800’s, the British shipped slaves from West Africa to toil the land and harvest the coveted sugar plantations. By 1810, Britain had abolished slavery, but it continued in Jamaica until the African slaves rebelled and burned the plantations of white slave owners. Emancipation was finally granted in 1838.

After the rebellions, plantation owners had to seek new workers to till their fields and began to import indentured servants from East India. It was these East Indian laborers who brought over the first seedlings of cannabis indica that sparked a movement.

India’s influence on cannabis in Jamaica is also evident in common phrasing. “Ganja,” the preferred moniker for cannabis, is a Hindi word passed down from Sanskrit – “g?ñj?” means “hemp” or “hemp resin.”