For years, getting high has been called going on a trip. With the rise of weed tourism, pot aficionados can now go on a trip… to get high.
Today, weed tourism has a reported value of $17 billion, according to Forbes, with an estimated $4.5 billion of the $25 billion collected in 2021 tourism related purchases like hotels, food, attractions, and more.
With more states in the U.S. allowing the recreational use of marijuana – 19 states, along with Washington DC at this point – and more countries around the world following suit it’s easier than ever for tourists to toke up while they travel. Cue those frequent high-er points, am I right?
But what even qualifies as weed tourism? And just how legal is it? And just how high are we on its potential? Before you light up, let’s take a look at the past, present, and future of weed tourism.
The History Of Cannabis Tourism
In its modern form, cannabis tourism has been around since the 60s. From getting high and going on road trips to finding marijuana around the world while you traveled, weed has been a part of tourism for decades.
Whether it was legal or not, though that’s the sticky icky question for the day.
While we are going to talk about legalization and decriminalization of marijuana for tourists, it’s worth mentioning that there is still a level of absurdity- – and racism involved – that has so many people’s lives affected by marijuana convictions … despite marijuana becoming increasingly legal. We’ll come back to this point.
For now, weed tourism. In the US, Colorado and Washington State have been the forerunners of the weed tourism movement. In Washington, they even have the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, renamed in 2015 to recognize the board’s role in regulating cannabis.
Before? It was the Washington State Liquor Control Board, formed in 1934, just two years after the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol. Sound familiar?
Since then, a total of 19 states have gotten on board, from California – famous for Humboldt county’s weed-growing regions – to Connecticut, whose Governor openly promotes marijuana use by sharing a country song.
“Back home we thank the governor
For the blessings that we got
We can gamble on the internet
And it’s cool to smoke some pot.”
Since 2017, we’ve also had the Cannabis Travel Association – with international partners ranging from official destination management companies like Visit Yosemite, the Southern Humboldt Business & Visitors Bureau, and Visit New England.
They’re dedicated to promoting “the development of safe and responsible cannabis tourism, unifying the cannabis and tourism industries, advocating for an enabling regulatory environment, and promoting best practices in this space.”
That regulatory environment can be complex. International definitions of legalization vary from selling marijuana in licensed establishments only… to allowing both the consumption and sale of cannabis… to only allowing medical marijuana.
Countries where tourists can use marijuana to some degree include the US, Canada, and Mexico… Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Portugal, Spain, Cambodia, India, Morocco, South Africa… every continent is represented (we’ll get back to you on Antarctica).
The really big news? On June 9th, Thailand’s government removed cannabis and hemp plants from its banned narcotics lists, meaning the Thai people are free to grow and sell it now too
Why is that such a big deal? In 2019, the last normal travel year before COVID, Thailand recorded a total of 40 million tourists in 2019, placing it squarely in the top 10 of most visited countries.
Why is that such a big deal for Thailand? None of those other nine countries have decriminalized marijuana on a national level, positioning this Southeast Asian gem to receive even more tourists.
Some food for thought? In 2016 in France, 10 million tourists visited to participate in wine tourism. Well, maybe that’s wine for thought.
While it’s not the case that more tourists are always better, for a country so dependent on tourism, this could be a boon… because tourists visiting Thailand spend an average of $1,613 per visit.
What would an extra 10 million tourists mean? Oh just a casual $16 billion.
Where Cannabis Tourism Is Now
With potential like that, it’s clear cannabis tourism is taking off. Though people who smoke weed have known for years you can make any tourism activity a weed tourism activity with a little help from some friends…
Now it’s legal. Ish.
Want to add a little bit of CBD to your R&R? At Jamaica’s Coral Cove Wellness, they offer local sun-grown cannabis, fungi therapeutics, and expert guidance on your journey to wellness and healing.
Wine and food are a pairing for wine tourism. With weed, though? Pairing with food is just the beginning. Want to pair your high with art, food, and nature? Modesto’s tourism board highlights the sensory pairings with their MoTown Canna-Pass.
There are farm tours, cannabis trails, gastronomy, and more. If you want to relax with weed, if you want to adventure with weed, if you want to explore a city with weed, there are tours to help you do so. While we’re already big fans of food tourism, this could take that to another level.
You may also start to see weed following in wine’s footsteps, as demand is growing for informed, professional dispensary workers; some organizations now offer cannabis sommelier certification programs. Maybe Michelin starred restaurants would start having weed sommeliers to offer pairings?
And just like wine has terroir, weed does, too. Cannabis growers are going after the same thing with Appellations of origin and geographical indications widely used in the wine and tourism industry are gaining popularity, and growers and distributors promoting strains associated with unique regions
Weed tourism seems to be here to stay. While finding weed may be less complicated than it used to be (I know a guy who knows a guy…), finding a reason to justify participating could be.
The Complicated Legal Standing of Weed Tourism In the US
Look. Weed tourism is complicated. Part of that is because it’s challenging to separate the benefits of weed tourism from the actual benefits of weed.
In the U.S., marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, means it has real complications.
And overdosing on marijuana? We’re still waiting for the first report.
Anyway. Back to the problematic marijuana. Being a schedule 1 drug marijuana means:
“that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
What does that mean for marijuana? It’s almost impossible to do real research.
“Conflicting federal and state cannabis regulations hinder research in several ways, including the inability of researchers to access products that are legal in their state, a lack of standardization and quality control of cannabis and cannabis-derived products within and across states, and no national oversight of this standardization and quality control or the industry.”
And when that research is difficult, it’s hard to come to a conclusion… and that helps to explain why every state is approaching it differently.
The states that are choosing to actually approach it, though? They’re seeing that weed tourism is more than just a hazy issue… there are real benefits.
In Denver, Colorado, a Penn State researcher found that the Legalization of recreational marijuana led to increased revenues, with roughly $130 million in new hotel revenues….
Because the people seeking out these activities are the kind of traveler with green to burn…
Who are they?
According to the Cannabis Travel Association International (CTAI), the modern-day marijuana user is not the stereotypical stoner dude sitting on his couch. Here are 5 key takeaways:
- They’re just as likely to be female as male.
- They are mostly Millennials or younger (63 percent)
- They largely have college degrees (59 percent)
- They overwhelmingly have a job (82 percent) and
- They live in households with an average income of $87,000.
In another survey, 87 percent of respondents favor worldwide legalization and 65 percent of Americans saying they would travel to a city or country to experience its licensed cannabis market. That means more tourists approve of cannabis tourism, and would consider making it a reason (even if not the sole reason) to travel.
Now, these high-earning (and high spending) tourists can justify vacations to Thailand… though if you needed any more help justifying a vacation to Thailand, I’m not sure what to tell you.
But if you’re feeling high on the idea of weed tourism, we have some news that might harsh your mellow.
The Ethics of Supporting Cannabis Tourism
As you probably know, the legality of marijuana is about as confusing as a legal substance can get.
Given that weed is often compared to alcohol, let’s start there.
With alcohol, you pretty much know where you stand when it comes to consuming it. In most places in the U.S., you can’t consume it in public areas (oh hi, Vegas). In other countries, like France and Hong Kong, consuming publicly is fine.
Consuming marijuana, on the other hand, almost always has to be done on private property, or when accompanied with a medical marijuana card.
What does that mean? For travelers coming to enjoy a carefree experience, they’re going to be dealing with some uptight restrictions.
There are restrictions on the quantity you can buy and hold, of course, but there are also restrictions on whether you as a tourist can actually buy it.
Why is that? The majority of these rules are made for residents. For tourists? It’s much more difficult to say with certainty. With countries not explicitly stating one way or the other, it could lead to tourists breaking laws.
Besides the legality issue – and in the US, it still being a schedule 1 drug – cannabis tourism could be downright unethical.
Take an article from the LA times.
“When California voters legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2016, one promise was the creation of a legal pathway through the courts for clearing many past marijuana-related convictions or reducing them to a lesser charge….
“At least 34,000 marijuana records still have not been fully processed by the courts…
So, why should you care?
If you can join Humboldt’s Licensed, Informative, & Cush Humboldt County Cannabis Experiences or go to Modesto to enjoy a gov’t sponsored application that enhances your tourism high or head to Oakland to walk the weed trail…
And thousands of people across that state are still dealing with convictions – either serving time or with marks on their record that keep them from getting the jobs or work they deserve….
So for all the excitement about how regulating marijuana like alcohol could bring in much-needed tax dollars, it doesn’t feel quite as good knowing those tax dollars are going to a government that can’t do the work they’ve been tasked with doing.
The Future of Cannabis Tourism
Now, the debate about the legality of weed will be ongoing for a long time. But just because it’s illegal in certain places doesn’t mean it can’t be successful as a basis for tourism. After all, marijuana isn’t alone as a substance being banned around the world. There are still over 30 countries that have some form of alcohol ban.
Wine tourism in those places? Pretty limited. And yet, in the places where wine tourism works, it works well. Remember those 10 million tourists visiting France?
Which brings us to our final idea. Could weed tourism be bigger than wine tourism?
Now, wine has a pretty big head start. From 6,000 BC to today, wine has become a part of modern life. Marijuana, though cultivated as early as 2,800 BC, has been more of a wild card, becoming more studied in just the 1900s, and only now becoming legal in parts of the US and the world.
Still, let’s look at some of the promising numbers:
- Non-residents are consistently responsible for nearly 10% of Colorado’s cannabis sales;
- 9 months after Illinois launched its recreational program, nearly 30% of purchases were by non-residents
- Legalization increased hotel rooms rented per month in Colorado by 51,000 between 2011 and 2015
Now, many of these sales by non-residents are of course a factor of them not being able to support it in their own state. But just like people may travel to check out the microbrewery scene or a wine-growing region, cannabis tourism is likely to grow in the same way.
As countries like Canada and Thailand work to create national regulations, they too stand to benefit from this boom in cannabis tourism.
For as much as the U.S. might be attracting domestic tourists, the confusion to international travelers about what is legal where, when, and in what quantities is going to be a detriment to growth.
Countries that can show they are a safe place for cannabis use and tourism could attract a global travel audience, leading to huge economic benefits.