Drive through the streets of any city in Manitoba and you are likely to pass a number of cannabis locations —often with large colourful signs — identifying it as a legalized place to buy this formally criminalized drug in most of its available forms.

How time has changed attitudes! In the 60’s it was the so-called hippies who were smoking marijuana illegally, and if caught were often punished with jail sentences. As time went on, law enforcement ceased to be as stringent on charges against most individuals — unless they could make a case for trafficking. While not as pervasive as in times before, pot users were still always concerned they could become targets at any time.

Publicity around marijuana — and a wider not so underground user market — began to change people’s negative perceptions, separating cannabis from the use of hard drugs.

As research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis totally broke through the barriers of official public policy, Canada found itself in one of the leading nations in the liberalization and sale of these products. Canada was far from the first to legalize cannabis use on a country-wide basis, but today it is seen as a leader in effective quality controls and safe distribution of both medical and non-medical products.

So much so that a recent report done by researchers at the University of Guelph, envision a plan which could create the opportunity for Canada to become a leader in the introduction and marketing of serious cannabis tourism. While easy access is part of the reason for the belief in its chance for optimum economic success, it goes beyond just individual usage.

Cannabis has become an agricultural product, and the researchers hypothesize that organized tours of the growing operations, its packaging in addition, and almost apart, from its consumption. They suggest this as a strategic tourism investment may hold tremendous potential for Canada, with the logical extension to Manitoba’s economy.

Sanjay Nepal, from the University of Waterloo who partnered with Guelph and is a spokesperson for the study said, “It is critical that a Canadian perspective on cannabis tourism be developed because currently we are a leading country in the world with federally legalized cannabis tourism for leisure and recreational consumption purposes.”

The researchers at the university point to the success of wine tours in provinces like British Columbia and Ontario, where most of the Canada’s wine production originates. Like many other Manitobans, I have been fortunate to have participated in a couple of these tours. They are professional, experiential, and as I found, totally conducive to buying product to take home for entertainment and enjoyment.

For a period of time, the Netherlands seemed to be the leader, with an open-door policy to the drug, not for medicinal purposes, but for leisurely consumption, often in dedicated coffee shops. As time went on, the government tightened restrictions, allowing only their citizens to participate in smoking in these locations. Some say it is a policy which is easy to navigate around.

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It is not this style of openness the university is focusing on in its analysis. They can see an inbound market program in the same way there are already farm and agriculture tours.

But around the world there could be competitors, although not mirroring the outline put forward by the University of Guelph. Uruguay is listed as the first country to fully endorse legal status of marijuana for both recreational and medical usage. However, visitors without some local underground assistance are not allowed to purchase any of the products legally yet.

In Jamaica, one of the more interesting countries where cannabis is technically illegal, at any number of restaurants if you see a menu item that is marked as happy, it is likely it features THC as one of its main ingredients.

Jamaica has always been seen as a haven for pot smokers, but in fact it was only decriminalized six years ago in 2015. You are only allowed two ounces for personal use, unless you can somehow convince the authorities you are Rastafarian, then you can use as much as you want for ‘religious purposes”.

As more studies and serious discussion around the concept of creating a cannabis tourism in Canada continues many of the old biases and fears are likely to be reawakened.

Ron Pradinuk

Ron Pradinuk
Travel writer

A writer and a podcaster, Ron’s travel column appears in the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday in the Destinations and Diversions section.


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