Tourists converge on British Columbia for a lot of reasons, but there’s one major attraction that’s only mentioned in winks and whispers: that fabulous B.C. bud.
Those whispers could turn into shouts when Canada legalizes recreational cannabis later this year.
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When that happens, the people who welcome visitors to B.C.’s booming craft beer and wine industries will be waiting, with a bit of apprehension.
“It’s a natural fit with the beer, food and wine tours that we already offer on a daily basis,” Brandon Moscrip of Canadian Craft Tours told CBC News.
But there are risks in putting the reputation of a successful company on the line for a substance that’s been illegal for close to a century.
“We’re not a booze cruise and I don’t want to be a big hot box, where this is a place to get high and cruise around,” explained Jayden Grundy, owner of Vancouver’s Vine & Hops tours.
Both Grundy and Moscrip have spent the last few months weighing the pros and cons of jumping into cannabis tourism, anxiously waiting for more details about what legalization will actually look like in B.C.
“It’s going to be a roller coaster,” Moscrip said.
He has his eyes on Colorado, where pot tourism has exploded since recreational cannabis has been legal since 2014.
Estimates from the cannabis industry publication Marijuana Business Daily suggest that tourists from out of state spent about $98 million US at recreational dispensaries in 2015, accounting for nearly 17 per cent of cannabis sales.
‘420 friendly’ airport pickup
In just a few short years, an entire industry has sprung up to cater to those visitors.
Now, tourists can indulge before they’ve even checked into their hotels, with “420 friendly” airport pickup services. There are craft classes that combine pot and pottery, cooking classes that teach both sushi and joint rolling, and spas that offer marijuana-infused massages.
But it’s not clear if the same opportunities will be available in B.C.
“We can’t necessarily follow what’s happened in Colorado because they have different smoking bylaws, different edibles bylaws,” Moscrip said.
The provincial government has sketched in some details of what legalization will look like in B.C., but there are still questions about pricing, edibles and whether existing dispensaries will be allowed to continue operating.
Municipal governments will also have the power to ban cannabis outlets, which will strike some cities from the list of places to take visitors.
Then there’s the fact that smoking and vaping non-medical cannabis will be banned on beaches and in parks everywhere in the province. Grundy and Moscrip have no intention of encouraging clients to break the rules, so it could be challenging to find appropriate spots to indulge.
The two men have similar ideas about what a cannabis tour might look like. It has to have a strong educational component, with visits to growers, as well as some light sampling of the wares — and of course, a few munchies.
Moscrip says it’s possible Canadian Craft Tours will have a cannabis tour up running on the very first day of legalization.
He explained that the biggest chunk of the company’s business doesn’t actually come from out-of-province visitors. Instead, tours tend to be booked by corporate clients, as well as birthday, bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Stags and stagettes are an obvious fit for cannabis tourism, but workers may not be comfortable planning an office Christmas party that features bong hits.
“The first question that comes to mind … and we’ve done a lot of market research, is: ‘Is my boss going to think differently of me for this?'” Moscrip said.
At Vine & Hops, on the other hand, Grundy is still in the brainstorming phase. Besides having a few concerns about the impact on his brand, he has some questions about the size of the market for cannabis tours.
“Alcohol has been a social lubricant for thousands of years. Marijuana? I’m sure it’s been around for a long time, but I don’t know if it’s been around as long or accepted in general society,” he said.
That’s a feeling shared by Ty Speer, the president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, who says his organization will be taking a cautious approach to legal cannabis, and watching the early experiments with interest.
“We’ll keep an eye on what happens with the marijuana industry, and we’ll assess it at a point in time down the road where it’ll fit into the tourism story — a lot, a little or none at all,” he said.
“I think we’ve got a lot to learn and, quite frankly, I think everybody has got a lot to learn.”
This story is part of Greenlit, a CBC Vancouver series exploring ways the legalization of marijuana will affect B.C. Other stories in the series include:
Women in weed: charting change for male-dominated cannabis culture
Legal weed might lead to growth in illegal pot operations
Up in the air: B.C. puts off decision on cannabis lounges