c. 1845 CE
Cannabis comes to Jamaica

Jamaica was conquered by Christopher Columbus for the Spanish crown in 1494. The local people were then subjected to brutal forced labour, starvation, and disease. By the time the British captured the island in 1655, the original inhabitants had been almost wiped out. The British then imported slaves from West Africa to work the lucrative sugar plantations. When slavery was finally abolished on the island in 1838, landowners turned to India as a source of cheap labour. These indentured labourers (people who came to New World by agreeing to work for an employer for a fixed number of years) carried the first cannabis (or ganja) seedlings to Jamaica.

The first official mention of ganja smoking in Jamaica is in 1883 in a report that maintains it causes lunacy. This was a common claim in British colonies including India and the Cape Colony in Southern Africa. The British had developed an asylum system to deal with native people who were viewed as problematic or dangerous. When police brought people to the asylums one of the questions on the form asked about the cause of the lunacy. Not knowing what else to put, they often wrote, "ganja smoking." Thus emerged the evidence that cannabis caused insanity.

Source: Austin, G. A. (1978). Perspectives on the history of psychoactive substance use. NIDA.

Drugs: Cannabis (marijuana)
Regions: Caribbean Islands
Topics: Cultivation, production and trade, Cultural factors (social, religious, ritual)