How is a new travel trend taking off?

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Legal consumption of cannabis has surged in the United States and Europe during the COVID pandemic, as some people have turned to marijuana to help them deal with lockdowns and disruptive routines. Meanwhile, fewer people today view the drug as harmful than in previous decades.

These factors may have contributed to the trend toward cannabis-related tourism, with destinations developing new holiday products to entice customers, and increased travel bookings to destinations where cannabis is legal. But there are risks for both destinations and tourists in embracing this trend.

Work by MMGY Travel Intelligence found that 29% of leisure travelers are interested in cannabis-related tourism. A study conducted by the Dutch government revealed that 58% of international tourists choose Amsterdam in order to take drugs. Business in Dutch cafes has increased since the start of the pandemic.

Nine months after Illinois passed recreational cannabis in January 2020, nearly 30% of purchases were by non-residents. Thailand has just announced that it has legalized cannabis and hopes it will boost tourism.

The tourism sector and selected destinations have responded quickly to demand for cannabis, cannabis and CBD-related products by designing trials that include these components. It also responds to the expected economic potential related to increased hotel occupancy, tax revenue, increased land value, business expansion, jobs, and public health and safety benefits that can be linked to cannabis sales.

However, despite the growing popularity of tourism to other destinations with legal cannabis, data is only just beginning to be collected. So far there is no destination ready to be classified as “Next Amsterdam“.

great potential

While travelers associated with cannabis are thought to spend large sums and have a good education, the authorities are unwilling to repeat the Dutch model, which has led to a massive concentration of cannabis cafes in Amsterdam and raised concerns about drug abuse and criminality.

New business models focus on agrotourism (farmer encounter sessions), culinary tourism, and events such as cannabis festivals. Tourists can choose from farm tours, “bud and breakfast” hotels, city tours, cannabis festivals, cannabis trails, food, wine and marijuana pairings, “ganja yoga,” and packages that combine accommodations with cannabis experiences.

The potential of cannabis tourism is spreading all over the world. More than 19 US states and Washington, D.C. have now legalized recreational cannabis, along with Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, and others. In Europe, Luxembourg allows the consumption of personally grown cannabis, while Switzerland is testing cannabis sales from pharmacies for recreational purposes.

Malaysia and Thailand have taken initial steps towards legalizing recreational use. Costa Rica and Morocco have also agreed to legalization for medical purposes.

Dangers for tourists

However, few countries have clarified the legality of cannabis use by tourists with legislation targeting residents’ recreational use. This means that tourists risk inadvertently breaking the law, by interacting with street dealers and police as well as the health effects of consuming real and fake medicines.

There is some evidence that cannabis can improve some mental health conditions and relieve pain. But tourists with pre-existing mental disorders, for example, may risk their physical and psychological health. Cannabis-related mental health events, including depression, can also occur among those who have not been diagnosed with mental health problems.

The complex array of laws and regulations regarding the recreational use of cannabis by foreign tourists means that questions remain about the legality of consumption, transporting cannabis pens abroad, as well as issues of insurance coverage and health care, during and after travel.

While Uruguay plans to allow the consumption of tourists, countries such as Portugal, where cannabis has been decriminalized since 2001, still do not allow them to legally buy it. In Spain, cannabis clubs allow visitors to donate to the club instead of buying a product. But Spain and other big markets like South Africa focus on local cannabis tourism rather than international visitors.

Few countries have conducted a cost-benefit analysis of legal cannabis and tourism, or fully discussed land and water use issues, policing and their benefits to local communities. While cannabis tourism can generate tourism and jobs, and reduce the power of organized crime, the SDG is threatened by theft, racism, and the market stacked against small, local operators who often cannot secure financing or insurance. There are also potential increases in pollution, public health and safety concerns.

Mexico and Canada have promised to fund locally owned companies to help social and racial equality, while New York plans to create a US$200m (£162m) public-private fund to support social justice goals. Resident support and ongoing conversations with communities on how to plan for the sustainable development of cannabis tourism should be a vital part of developing the sector.

While the COVID pandemic appears to have helped spur and legalize marijuana use, with dispensaries declaring an essential service in parts of the United States during the pandemic, tourism could expand and normalize acceptance of its use.

Perceived risks may dissipate and the tourist’s guilt may diminish. Cannabis tourism is likely to become just another part of the holiday industry.

Study says Canada could become Napa Valley for cannabis tourism

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