Island paradises are popular vacation spots with mainlanders for a reason — because, well, they’re paradise. Why else would pasty-looking people flock to them? But there’s a glaring omission from the all-inclusive's list of earthly delights: Legal cannabis. So where to go for beach themed marijuana vacations?
Make no mistake: Weed can be found everywhere fruit-based cocktails with paper umbrellas are served without irony. Whether or not you’ll be able to find some is another issue. Until this month, when Las Vegas turned on the green light at its recreational cannabis stores, over-the-counter cannabis tourism was a privilege reserved for places that enjoy cold, rain, and snow, like Denver, Seattle, Portland, even Anchorage. Out on the islands, the drug war has died a slow death.
But since most of the expensive island getaway destinations also happen to be stone broke, there’s a strong push to reform marijuana laws from elected leaders as well as the hoi polloi. But like the mainland, progress can be measured in island time. This also applies on American soil. Here are the best candidates for an irie island experience.
The most obvious choice for marijuana vacations is the island synonymous worldwide with cannabis culture. But not only isn’t there a legal dab bar in Montego, Jamaicans don’t even get to enjoy official Bob Marley-branded marijuana — which is produced and sold in legal states on the American mainland.
But since the island needs money from something other than tourism and export-based agriculture like coffee, Jamaica is keen to cash in on the wave of marijuana business sweeping the mainland. The island is not the least bit apologetic about looking to marijuana to provide another excuse for tourists to get off the cruise ship, or as an anchor for wellness-seeking ecotourists.
Jamaica decriminalized possession of two ounces or less in 2015, and has talked about allowing tourists to load up on local herb at the airport. Sounds nice, until you keep in mind that while Jamaicans enjoy medical cannabis in theory, it’s taken until 2017 for outfits wishing to cultivate government-approved ganja to be issued permits. In the meantime, demand is met by a still-thriving black market. And since laws are far, far more relaxed than they were in the not-so-recent past, a ganja-seeker can afford to be choosy with the sketchy strangers who appear offering drugs.
The hard times in America are hardest in Puerto Rico, where the local government owes mainland banks $72 million and where as many as half of working-age people are out of a job. Puerto Ricans are American citizens but can’t vote in presidential elections, and get no votes in Congress — and their raw deal extends to cannabis, still a target for the DEA and FBI, which absolutely have local offices on the island.
Even so, Puerto Rico’s sovereign government has pushed forward with medical marijuana, handing out a license to almost anyone with the permit fees. Yet a few years on, fewer than 4,000 of the island’s 3.5 million people have signed up as patients. And these select few who managed to navigate a bottlenecked approval process have had terrific difficulty actually accessing any cannabis. Growers have had difficulty producing adequate supply, and when the same government publishes tweets comparing using cannabis to “smoking LSD,” as Puerto Rico’s Senate did earlier this year, the atmosphere isn’t exactly welcoming.
But things are looking up. In July, Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed an updated medical-marijuana bill, and stated at the same time that there’s “absolutely” support in the legislature for legalization. Can the industry adjust? Will San Juan have a Calle Verde? Maybe, but for now, if sun-filled marijuana vacations are what you’re after, you’re probably better off going to Vegas.
The most obvious place for palm trees and coconuts to serve as a backdrop for swaying fields of green is America’s most remote state. Hawaii has had medical marijuana for years, after all — but it’s also been years that patients, of which there are fewer than 16,000, have been waiting for dispensaries to open up. Sales were supposed to begin in 2016, but as of July 2017, the state was still a ways away from approving labs and dispensaries to open their doors.
And despite relaxed island vibes — everyone in the legislature wears Hawaiian shirts to work! — there’s a decidedly conservative bent to drug-policy reform. Relaxed marijuana laws struggle to get past the committee stage. The best method for a Hawaiian vacation involving pakalolo is probably to bring your own from the mainland, as the natives still suffer through punitive pot laws.
Florida (Mainland and Keys)
Key West is closer to Havana than it is to Miami — but it’s also still in Florida, which is a good thing for anyone wanting to visit Hemingway’s house with a joint stashed in a pocket. Florida is a red state, but it’s quite possibly the most marijuana-friendly red state. After a large majority of Florida voters approved medical marijuana last fall, deep-pocketed dispensaries are opening for business in places like Tampa.
To add dispensaries to the mix in liberal, LGBT-friendly places like Key West is a no-brainer. For now, there are only delivery services, but as the rest of the state opens up to the cannabis industry, storefront dispensaries will follow — and from there, it’s only a matter of time before full legalization hits the ballot. If we had to bet on a warm-water destination to master the art of letting adults buy marijuana first, we might put money on Florida.
Beach themed marijuana vacations make almost too much sense. Let's hope they become a (legal) reality soon.