Is cannabis a ‘cash crop’ for tourism in Canada?

TravisLane
Travis Lane from The Internet Dispensary

On Thursday April 13th the Government of Canada took another step towards legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

They unveiled Bill C-45, which will be known eventually as the Cannabis Act. It allows adults to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in public, share up to 30 grams with other adults, and buy cannabis or oil from a provincially-regulated retailer. Provinces and municipalities would have the ability to tailor mechanisms for enforcement of these rules, as well as set zoning, traffic safety, licensing, distribution and retail sales rules. The changes are expected to take effect in 2018.

One of the outcomes of these changes is the impact on small “craft cannabis” growers and the potential for “cannabis tourism”. Similar to wine tourism, cannabis tourism offers visitors the opportunity to experience the growth cycle, and sample and purchase product unique to the region in which it is grown.

Travis Lane is the CEO of The Internet Dispensary and part of a couple of small operations on Vancouver Island. His product is grown with organic inputs and without the use of pesticides.

Together with Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada president Ian Dawkins, Travis recently combed through the 145-page bill to find relevant points for their industry, as well as implications for tourism.

I connected with Travis and Ian about the importance of this crop to tourism in the province.

Tourism Nerd: Could you tell me more about the potential cannabis poses for tourism in BC, and in Canada?

I believe there is already an element of cannabis tourism present in BC. The brand of BC Bud has been prominent for decades, and the near non-enforcement of cannabis laws by police forces in Vancouver and Victoria has long been enticing for folks from stricter environments.

With that being said, legalization could have offered us an opportunity to turn this massive, multi billion dollar native economy into a tourism powerhouse. Everything from bud & breakfasts, to smoke lounges and coffee shops, to grow and dispensary tours are ready to go. It could be huge.

Unfortunately the federal government have chosen to approach legalization from the opposite angle. Instead of celebrating the legitimization of an underground cultural practice, they believe it should be treated much more severely than even alcohol or tobacco consumption. They want no branding, no advertising, and no tourism, all to avoid ‘normalizing’ something that has long been normal here in BC.

TN: What are some of the challenges?

The biggest challenges, to my mind, stem from a disconnect between Ottawa and the people of BC. It is abundantly clear that the federal government favours a scheme that treats cannabis in a very different way than the citizens and businesses of BC would like to see.

Here in BC, we produce the vast majority of cannabis in Canada. Much of what gets sold in Toronto or Winnipeg these days is grown in BC. We can already safely say that there are 40,000 full-time illegal workers in the BC cannabis space, and the real number is likely higher.

As a result, businesses of all kinds have received support from these cannabis workers for a long time, and the general feeling here in the west is that cannabis is good for our economy, and we should take advantage of that wherever possible.

So, when I see very strict restrictions around branding and promotion in bill C-45, I feel like BC’s needs and potential were not even considered. It would be a huge shame if the people with expertise, that have been doing this illegally for years, were ignored, their talents squandered and their brands forced out of business.

If we can get the provincial government to see these opportunities, they might just be the biggest allies of the craft cannabis producers and vendors here in BC. It is my hope that we hear something from all of the parties during the lead up to the provincial elections. Our province stands to lose a lot if we don’t stand up to Ottawa and defend the very industry that has fought for decades to see legalization in Canada.

TN: How can the tourism industry support small growers like you? What should we be advocating for on your behalf?

In the long run, I think the two industries fit very well together here in BC. Over the past year, even under prohibition, there have been many cannabis events that have drawn thousands of people into the lower mainland.

Hotels seem to have already loosened up about cannabis, particularly in Vancouver and Victoria when it comes to hosting cannabis trade shows. I see that industry-to-industry relationship expanding in the future. It allows these shows to get positive press and public credibility.

These business-to-business relationships are the key to assimilating the underground cannabis economy into the mainstream. Cannabis award galas, trade shows, seminars, and competitions tend to educate people about the product and people, whether there is onsite consumption or not.

When it comes to advocacy, it is all about having conversations with business people and politicians, and presenting rational, understandable models.

I think the VQA BC wine model is an excellent example of how boutique artisanal cannabis can be presented. Yes, you could buy it at your local dispensary as a retail item, but you could also go up to the farm, be treated to a meal, smoke the locally produced product, and walk through part of the field.

This VQA example is also great, because it is widely known. Where a politician or policy analyst might not know the ins and outs of cannabis production, the VQA model makes sense right away. Quality assurance and stimulation of tourism in one? Yes please.

TN: Any other trends or news we should watch for? Final words?

Just that this election in BC is going to be absolutely crucial for my industry. The BC government will determine distribution methods, and C-45 is pretty light on production details, too. The next provincial government might direct the future of Canadian cannabis even more than the feds.

BC will be at the center of this. It seems to me that tourism and cannabis are already holding the BC economy together, so this is natural ground for collaboration.

 You can read more insights from Travis Lane at Inside the Jar.

View the bill discussed here in its entirety at http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=8894959

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