Article by Sally Herships, PRI via USA Today
Most of the time farmers are proud of their crops and are happy to talk about them. But ask a certain kind of farmer what they grow and they might seem a little evasive.
“I farm goats and cows and cabbage in the bush,” says Baxter, a middle-aged farmer in Jamaica.
Inquire further and he starts to laugh.
Baxter isn’t his real name. He doesn’t want to use it because one of his biggest crops is marijuana.
Baxter wears black plastic sunglasses and khaki cargo shorts torn off below the knee. His teeth are stained from the cigarettes he seems to be rolling constantly. He’s standing in the center of a small, rural town on the edge of a bustling street. Goats, chickens and dogs wander through, trying to avoid brightly colored motorbikes.
Here in Jamaica, where Baxter lives and works, growing pot for recreational use is illegal. But it’s still a business.
“Yeah, man, a big business,” he says. “A big, illegal business.”
So Baxter’s farm is hidden. It has to be. To find it, you have to head deep into the countryside. First, a taxi ride out of town. Then, a hike through green sugar cane on a dirt path. Finally, around a corner, is a rocky field covered with knee-high marijuana plants. At night, Baxter sleeps in the open, under a lean-to. Someone always has to be on the lookout for government helicopters. But that could change.
The international market for marijuana is booming. It’s set to reach $50 billion within a decade. And after spending millions to crack down on the drug, Jamaica’s government has decided it wants to cash in. It legalized medical marijuana and created a new licensing system to allow farmers to legally grow cannabis for medical, scientific or therapeutic purposes. But the fees are expensive and small farmers like Baxter say they’re being left by the wayside.
“It’s not easy, lots of money to get the license,” he says. “Lots of thousands of dollars.”
Applying for the license alone costs $300 and the licenses can cost farmers thousands of dollars per acre. Then there are processing fees, transportation fees and more. Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority says some of these other expensive requirements, like fencing and surveillance cameras, are dictated by international drug laws.