As international COVID regulations lift, our beloved Canadian cities will once again welcome tourists who are looking for a beauty named Mary Jane to elevate their mood. One estimate of the impact of cannabis tourism on the Canadian economy runs as high as a $2 billion boost. Unfortunately, the industry faces severe limitations and Canadian cannabis business owners find themselves jumping through hoops to satisfy harsh government regulations.
Challenges amidst the rise of cannabis tourism
In an age of ongoing prohibitions against cannabis with daunting consequences (ranging from a minimum of four years in prison in Turkey to the bone-chilling death penalty in Singapore), it’s easy to imagine why buying a plane ticket is much preferable to hiring a lawyer. A 2021 study observed the allure of cannabis tourism, with researchers reporting that cannabis-consuming travellers view marijuana use under the context of tourism as less perilous to personal health in comparison to usage in everyday life.
In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize the sale and distribution of cannabis, followed by Canada in 2018. Canada further solidified its position as the forerunner of a budding cannabis tourism industry by establishing itself as the only country in the world to permit cannabis sales to foreign passport holders. However, the global community does not perceive Canada as a hotspot for weed culture. Rather destinations like Amsterdam and Colorado, where the sale and distribution of cannabis are not yet legal under federal law, attract cannabis-seeking tourists.
What experts say
Canadian cannabis experts are not shy expressing what constrains our industry’s growth, pointing to lack of supportive infrastructure, weak push for marketing, and overly enforced restrictions on direct sales. Jamie Shaw, Director of BC Independent Cannabis Association, speaks against the inaccessibility of financial aid. Shaw points to a lack of grants and programs for cannabis that are traditionally available to small businesses.
Furthermore, companies like J.P. Mariwell are frustrated with the stigma against cannabis, emphasizing that harsh government regulations are limiting an industry with the potential to grow to the same scale as wine tourism, which brings $1.5 billion of national revenue per year. Although Mariwell envisions guided tours on scenic cannabis plantations and bistros to host taste tests, regulations forbid consumers to visit production sites, as well as on-site consumption.
Push for acceptance
Since legalization in 2018, cannabis has contributed $43.5 billion to Canadian GDP and generated $15.1 billion in tax dollars. In a recent development, government officials are increasingly acknowledging the economic promise of cannabis and have begun loosening restrictions. Even Premier John Horgan asserts, “We in B.C. have a legendary product, and that’s not making its way to the legal market.”
While products, labels, and packaging associated with cannabis cannot be visible from street view, cannabis stores in British Columbia are no longer required to blackout windows since 2020. Ontario malls also welcome mainstream access by opening several cannabis stores, signalling a shift in public attitude.
As passionate cannabis growers and business owners continue to fight for their dreams, one can hope that the Canadian government will reciprocate these efforts by providing fair opportunities to what is undoubtedly a lucrative industry.