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What Canada needs to be a leader in cannabis tourism

Social media advertising bans and a lack of government support mean cannabis tourism is struggling to get off the ground, researchers and operators say.

Imagine the verdant vineyards, gourmet cuisine, and winding wine tasting tours of California’s Napa Valley. Now replace wine with weed and California with Canada – and ask yourself the question, suggest researchers in a recent study, could the Great White North become the mecca of cannabis tourism?

On October 17, 2018, the federal government of Canada passed Bill C-45, legalizing the cultivation, processing, sale, and possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis for recreational purposes.

When Newfoundlander Ian Power became the first person in Canada to buy legal cannabis, he told the press that the legal victory would be immortalized forever.

“I’m not even going to smoke it,” Power told CTV at the time. “It’s going to be vacuum sealed and put on the wall with a plaque that says tonight’s date and underneath ‘we won’.”

Fast forward three years, and hundreds of cannabis shops have popped up in cities and towns across Canada, selling everything from dried buds (renamed “flowers”) to THC-infused gummy bears. For many, what was once a “deviant” drug has become synonymous with six packs of beer.

“Cannabis is increasingly seen as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and is commonly consumed by many Canadians in their leisure time,” wrote researchers Susan Depej of the University of Guelph and Sanjay Nepal, a geographer at the University of Waterloo, in a recent study. published in Tourism Review International.

Could it also offer new appeal to an international tourism market stunted by the pandemic?

To answer this question, Depej and Nepal created a database of all tourism-related cannabis businesses in Canada between 2018 and 2020. The authors found businesses offering a “normalized” cannabis tourism experience through news stories, social media, industry groups, consumer trade shows. and industry conferences.

“Additionally, multiple tours provided insight through direct observation and first-hand experience as a cannabis tourist,” they noted.

On the accommodation side, the researchers have listed everything from boutique hotels and yurt rentals to “Bud and Breakfasts” offering unique getaways and spas.

In other cases, they found companies offering cannabis tastings and deals with cooking classes. Some offered grow room tours, joint rolling classes, and glass blowing demonstrations.

Also on the list – companies advertising cannabis concierge travel services, “puff and paint” events as well as themed weddings and bachelor or bachelorette parties.

A CITY GATHERS AROUND CANNABIS

Some communities are doing all they can to support the fledgling industry.

In 2020, the City of Smiths Falls, Ontario launched a three-year economic development strategy around cannabis tourism.

“Smiths Falls has evolved from our blue-collar industrial past and has the potential to become the Silicon Valley of the cannabis industry,” Mayor Shawn Pankow told the U.S. Congress in a 2019 document outlining the tourism strategy. cannabis from the city.

“We are experiencing an economic and social renaissance like we have never experienced before.”

Home to Canopy Growth, then the world’s largest licensed cannabis producer, and Rolling Greens, North America’s first cannabis-themed golf course, Smiths Falls aims to become the premier tourist destination in the cannabis in Canada. But it is certainly not the only one.

In some parts of the country, luxury tour operators are offering what researchers Depej and Nepal describe as “first-of-its-kind experiences,” where customers are transported by helicopter into nature for a “glamping” experience.

Companies that cater to guests looking for something more down-to-earth offer guided backcountry canoeing and kayaking trips to provincial parks, or skiing, snowmobiling or hiking. peach.

Like many industries, policies that support cannabis-related tourism have hurdles to overcome, including finding ways to reduce emissions from indoor grow operations.

A study published last year found that growing one ounce of indoor-grown cannabis in the United States released emissions equivalent to burning a full tank of gasoline. This means that someone who chooses to smoke a joint would have a higher carbon footprint than someone who opts for a pint of beer or a glass of wine.

The amount of emissions emitted from an indoor grow largely depended on how dirty the power grid was and how much heat and air conditioning was needed to create an artificial climate.

Grids built on hydroelectricity, such as Quebec and British Columbia, could offer significant reductions. But the same goes for alternative growing facilities, like greenhouse or outdoor growing operations, which in some cases have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 96%.

Another benefit of growing outdoors? A warming planet could produce more cannabis crops, as some growers experienced during the 2021 heat dome in British Columbia.

COULD CANNABIS START A STRUGGLING TOURISM INDUSTRY?

Based in Kelowna, BC, Nicholas Wilson has been guiding visitors to the South Okanagan for years, educating people about the region’s microclimates, varietals and wine nuances.

In the summer of 2019, his company, Wicked Wine Tours, launched Wicked Weed Tours in response to growing demand.

Using a fleet of small vans, the tour operator picks up customers from their hotels and takes them to a cannabis farm where they learn how cannabis interacts with the body and the differences between hemp strains, indica strains and sativa. Guests are then offered a private meeting at a dispensary where they can purchase cannabis and receive a loot bag upon completion.

“A lot of people smoked a joint,” Wilson said. “But cannabis tourism is so new that we need to educate.”

“It’s like walking into a liquor store and nobody knows the difference between Scotch and other whiskies. This is where we are right now.

From the start, the tours attracted a wide range of ages, from curious beginners to enthusiastic connoisseurs.

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the province, Wilson says demand is increasing again and he expects a busy summer.

The bottleneck of the industry, he says, are advertising platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which alongside steroids and human growth hormones have blanket bans on promoting cannabis and other related paraphernalia. to drugs. As a result, Wilson says the cannabis tourism industry needs support from all levels of government to spread the word and put Canada on the cannabis tourism map.

As researchers Depej and Nepal put it, “the legalization of cannabis in Canada has created a new landscape for tourism.” Once a “highly demonized and secretive substance”, cannabis has become a “feature, or attraction, that is embraced, celebrated and sold to the public”.

“There’s an appetite,” Wilson added. “We really don’t do or celebrate anything.”

“Municipal and provincial governments, federal ministers – they need to get involved and see it as an essential part of tourism.”