Civilized Life Print

Is Cannabis Canada’s Next Tourism Boom?

Illustration by  Dale Crosby Close
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Integrating cannabis into the broader cultural experience could be the future of THC and tourism.

Cannabis has been decriminalized to varying degrees in 26 countries around the world, but to this day no single country stands out as the ultimate destination for cannabis-seeking travellers. Even in California and Colorado you won’t see convention and visitor bureaus tout THC tourism on billboards any time soon due to the combined lack of federal approval and fear of alienating business travellers and families. But in Canada, with upcoming federalization allowing any adult (and that includes non-residents) over the age of 19 to purchase marijuana flower and extracts, businesses stand to benefit from the tourist trade more than in any other country.

Much of the world offers lessons in how not to scale: While countries like Portugal and Uruguay have lax laws surrounding growing, possessing, and purchasing marijuana for residents, visitors don’t have the ability to tap into their own personal grow stashes or join collectives. So travelers are often left to whisper requests at head shops or buy cannabis on the street.  The brave frequently prevail, but that’s not a consumer base that can scale. Even Denmark’s formerly freewheeling Christiania neighborhood has seen police crackdowns in recent years. Amsterdam remains the easiest destination for a traveller to navigate with hundreds of licensed marijuana cafés catering to tourists. But these are mostly in the red light district and not an integrated part of the travel experience.

In a few short years, the US has emerged with a more integrated approach in various categories, from wellness to hospitality. If Canada can scale a country-wide approach to integrating travel and THC, perhaps it will provide the world with a model of mindful and responsible cannatourism.

View more content from our Civilized series.

Here’s what’s working in the States and Canada and how it could exponentially grow in the coming years.

Hotels Have Room To Grow

cannabis tourism

cannabis tourism
The Los Angeles Standard hotel prepare to host cannabis retailer, Lord Jones.

While no national hotel chains in the US have yet to create cannabis-friendly packages, boutique hotels catering to the creative class are integrating it into the guest experience. At the Desert Hot Springs Inn in Joshua Tree guests can smoke outside by the firepit or vape in their rooms or book CBD massages. Denver is home to the country’s first cannabis-friendly hotel, the Nativ in the lower downtown district, which offers smoking balconies attached to half of its rooms and CBD lattes. Portland’s sleek Jupiter Hotel offers a 420 package that along with a room offers a vape pen, munchies kit, and coupons for discounts at local dispensaries. LA’s Standard Hotel will soon host a retail outlet for local upscale cannabis company Lord Jones. Come October 17th, visitors to Canada will be able to purchase cannabis flower and food grade THC oil. But with smoking prohibited in all Canadian hotels and most public spaces, travellers will be limited to imbibing the oil in the short term.

Cannabis Country Could be the New Wine Country

cannabis tourism
British Columbia’s Okanagan.

As California has Napa and Sonoma, Canada has the Okanagan Valley and the Niagara region. By some estimates, the Okanagan Valley’s wine country tourism generates upward of $150 million a year and the region could similarly benefit from cannabis tourism. While major producers and regulators are exploring the possibility of farm gate sales of cannabis, with public consumption still prohibited by law, the reality of a cannabis smoking tour is still far off. Still, Colorado credits nearly a quarter of its tourism to the availability of legal cannabis, so even with restrictions in place, the cannabis cultivation regions stand to gain.

Cannabis and Wellness Go Hand in Hand

cannabis tourism
Bellacures in Los Angeles offers a CBD oil pedicures.

Mind body yoga, meditation, and alternative medicines have historically proven sympathetic partners with cannabis. While many were among the first lifestyle businesses to work THC and CBD into their programs, few have scaled significantly. With yoga pop-up events such as Higher Self yoga in LA and 420 retreats in Aspen and Southern California offering couples multi day experiences with cacao ceremonies and group meditations. Cannabliss retreats started in Ojai California and is now hosting events in Canada. This model is an early mover as the events are held on private property and attendees are free to consume cannabis without flouting public smoking laws. In LA, Bellacures manicure spa offers CBD oil pedicures. For the next year, Canadian businesses won’t be able to offer CBD or THC enabled treatments, but come fall 2019 when extracts are legalized, the market is wide open.

Destination Luxury Retail

cannabis tourism
A MedMen store on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

In a few short years the US market for upscale retail dispensaries and boutiques has grown rapidly. MedMen, with a $1.6 billion valuation, has 12 stores and counting and was the first retailer to sign a celebrity partner in Gwyneth Paltrow, whose Goop lifestyle brand has a section in each location. Seattle-based Diego Pellicer combines a luxury retail experience akin to a cigar store, with competitive pricing. And The Apothecarium’s elegant spaces in the Bay Area and Vegas are rich with marble, hanging pendant lights, and fresh flowers so they look more like Restoration Hardware stores. Upscale Canadian cannabis lifestyle retailer Tokyo Smoke has plans to add 20-30 stores to its existing six in the next year. The new stores will all sell legal cannabis. Even now tourists are a significant part of their business. Will Stewart, VP of Communications for Tokyo Smoke owner Hiku, says visitors who can’t buy cannabis at home will seek out such experiences. “That’s going to continue and will be part of the Canadian travel experience” says Stewart, “for non-legal recreational state Americans and others to be able to see what the cannabis lifestyle looks like.”

This story is part of our Civilized series from our September 2018 issue. Click here for more content from the series.