All eyes have been on Canada this month as the Great White North geared up to become the first G7 nation to legalize marijuana.
Trudeau had planned to have the necessary legislation – Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act – in place by the 1st of July. But delays in the Senate, plus concerns raised by some indigenous leaders about the Act’s implications for their lands, mean legalization could be delayed until fall. Even when legalization formally occurs, the government has warned of a likely two- or three-month delay before marijuana can legally be bought or sold.
But when all these hurdles are out of the way, what does this development mean for North American cannabis tourism?
There are certainly high (ahem) hopes among Canadian stakeholders. Accounting firm Deloitte puts the value of a legal cannabis industry to the Canadian economy as high as $23 billion a year, with a hefty chunk of that being down to tourism; and Niagara Falls tourism officials have expressed some optimism about a future swelling in their visitor numbers as Americans cross the border into Ontario.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, an employee of a Dutch-style cannabis cafe (currently illegal, but the police turn a blind eye) told the Telegraph: ‘We could be the Amsterdam of Canada. We already are!’
The Vancouver bud-barista may have more cause for optimism than the tourism officials of Niagara Falls. The federal government has left it up to the provinces to determine the details of how the sale, distribution and taxation of legal cannabis will be regulated – and at this stage, some provinces have much more tourism-friendly plans than others.
Ontario have set up the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, which is the only body licensed to sell recreational cannabis. Their initial plans are for just 40 retail stores in the entire province (rising to 150 by 2020), selling cannabis in dried and oil form only. No prepared edibles will be sold until these are regulated by the federal government – which they have no immediate plans to do – and, most importantly, the use of cannabis will be prohibited in all public places, workplaces, and vehicles, including boats. There are no current plans to legalize the existing cannabis lounges for recreational use.
Quebec is establishing a similar monopoly organization to Ontario – the Société Québécoise du Cannabis – which will have 15 stores across the province. However, the restrictions on cannabis use in public places will reflect those applying to smoking tobacco, with bans on smoking in bus shelters, near schools and so on.
In Alberta, online sales will be under the control of the provincial government, but private retailers will have free rein when it comes to over-the-counter sales, and there will be no limit on the number of stores allowed: more than 200 private retailers are expected to sell recreational cannabis. In British Columbia, private retail stores will sell to individual consumers, while the government will operate online sales and wholesale stores – and again, consumption will be regulated along similar lines to tobacco smoking or vaping.
In short, the prospects for Canadian cannabis tourism look brighter in the West. The plans in BC and Alberta offer fewer restrictions, and more opportunities for travelers to try new products and experiences in comfort.
Understandably, tourism stakeholders in Ontario are concerned. The border with the US offers such an opportunity to welcome American visitors looking for a green getaway: but as things stand, this opportunity could go to waste. Both travelers and investors are likely to consider BC and Alberta the more attractive proposition for 420 tourism.