Kingston, Jamaica Mayor Comes to Denver to Learn About Legal Pot

The mayor of Kingston, Jamaica visited Denver over the weekend to get some hands-on experience in the legal pot industry.

Mayor Angela Brown Burke went on a two-day tour of Colorado marijuana business and met with law enforcement and policy makers from the the offices of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver mayor Michael Hancock in an effort to learn about regulated cannabis after Jamaica legalized medical and religious marijuana and decriminalized possession of less than two ounces in February. 

Brown Burke didn't partake in any recreational ganja, but she said her field trip to Denver made her more optimistic about Jamaica's decision.

"When I came here, I was confident we (Jamaica) had a good potential in terms of a market. We have been known for marijuana. It's part of our culture and it's what we're known for," she said. "But coming here has cemented that notion."

After meeting with Colorado lawmakers on Friday, Brown Burke, also the Deputy President of the Jamaican Senate, toured a number of women-owned marijuana businesses Saturday with tour guides from Cannabis Global Initiative, a Denver-based organization aimed at advancing legal marijuana. Brown Burke's tour included stops at a marijuana growing warehouse, extraction facility, testing lab, two dispensaries and edible kitchens.

While visiting the kitchen of Julie's Natural Edibles, Brown Burke learned about cannabutter, the differences between smoking and digesting marijuana and the struggles an edibles company faces while dealing with ever-changing regulations.

"It's a thrill and an honor to help teach a foreign policy maker about the love and hard work that goes into this industry," said Julie Dooley, owner of Julie's Natural Edibles.

Though ganja and Jamaica have been nearly synonymous for years, possession of the plant remained illegal until the country's Parliament recently approved an amendment legalizing it for medical, religious and therapeutic purposes and establishing a licensing agency for medical marijuana businesses. 

The religious use of cannabis in Jamaica is permitted for Rastafarians and their ritual practices, something Brown Burke said Jamaica must take into consideration when crafting its regulations.

"There are many of us who have known for years that the Rastas having ganja as part of their sacrament could not continue if that sacrament is illegal," she said.

According to a 2012 census, around 29,000 of Jamaica's 2.7 million people identify themselves as Rastafarian. One of the common Rasta practices involving marijuana, "the reasoning," involves a small group of Rastas smoking ganja and conversing. The ritual begins when one person lights up a pipe and recites a short prayer while the others bow their heads. The ritual continues while each participant smokes from the pipe.

Brown Burke said she'll return to Jamaica ready to share a good understanding of Colorado's pot industry with her fellow politicians after getting some strong advice on her trip.

"One gentleman said to me yesterday that 'I need to be ready to be surprised,'" she said.

Jamaica's amendment would also allow medial patients from other countries to legally purchase and consume cannabis on the island — something other Caribbean islands are taking note of according to GCI president Wanda James. According to her, the Bahamas and Virgin Islands have reached out to the company with interest in legalization, wary of losing pot-friendly tourists to Jamaica.

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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell