As Marijuana Industry Expands So Does Stepping High Ganja Festival

by Howard Campbell

NEGRIL, Jamaica – With Jamaica’s marijuana industry poised for major takeoff, promoters of the Stepping High Ganja Festival are going all out to make this year their strongest.

The Stepping High Ganja Festival takes place March 1-2 in Negril, the west Jamaica tourist town where it started in 2003.

This year comprises seminars, workshops, fashion show and reggae concert. Each project the versatility and potential of marijuana — or ganja as it is known in Jamaica — as a viable economic product.

Khimaja Connell, a director of Stepping High Ganja Festival, said it costs her family $750,000 to promote. Though there is symbolic support from Negril’s Chamber of Commerce and small hotels there, no financial backing comes from government.

She added that they have gone all out to attract visitors to a show that focuses on all things ganja.

As Marijuana Industry Expands So Does Stepping High Ganja Festival

Some of the products on display at Stepping High Ganja Festival.

“We have to put a lot of time and effort into researching and finding free online promotional opportunities. Posting on online community noticeboards and free online festival guides across Europe, Asia and North America is one of the ways we get the word out,” Connell explained. “I suppose this is one of the reasons we are able to attract such a unique audience, because we have had to implement a very different kind of marketing strategy, and there is still room for improvement even in using this method.”

Last year’s show attracted patrons from the United States, Japan and South America. They heard lecturers from the University of the West Indies and private investors speaking about the economic and health benefits of ganja; and also saw a fashion show featuring clothes designed from hemp, a derivative of the plant.

There is a live reggae show on closing day. This year’s performers include Capleton, I Wayne and Addis Pablo, son of dub legend Augustus Pablo.

As Marijuana Industry Expands So Does Stepping High Ganja Festival with performance by Addis Pablo

Addis Pablo performing at the 2018 Stepping High Ganja Festival.

Connell’s parents, Lyndon and Karlene, are natives of western Jamaica. They started Stepping High at a time when persons caught smoking ganja in their country could be prosecuted if caught with even small amounts of ganja.

Since 1962 when Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom, hundreds of persons have been imprisoned for ganja possession or attempting to export it.

Initially, Stepping High took place in an intimate setting and involved small ganja farmers from rural parishes in central and southern Jamaica.

Since the Jamaican government announced plans to decriminalize ganja, several high-profile persons such as former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson have launched companies investing in ganja research.

That encouraged the Connells to expand their festival which is attended by the top grassroots ganja practitioners in Jamaica, as well as members of academia and reggae legends like Lee “Scratch” Perry.

The most important aspect of promoting Stepping High Ganja Festival, stressed Khiamaja Connell, is getting the word out.

“Our latest marketing move is developing our own online radio (Stepping High Radio). We would love to advertise more on local and international radio stations, but we don’t have the funds, so if we cannot afford to buy what we need then we will create what we need…There is no giving up; no backing down,” she said.

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