Canada's new cannabis laws create tourism opportunities

Could Vancouver become the next Amsterdam or Colorado?

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      With recent changes to federal drug laws, Canada is poised to be a major competitor for weed tourism. Keenan Hall, founder of The Movement Cannabis Tours, believes that B.C.’s history and retail landscape place Vancouver in contention with internationally renowned pot hot spots like Amsterdam and Colorado.

      “I think Vancouver is probably one of the best places in the entire world to have a cannabis experience,” he tells the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Highlighting the city’s 420 culture, Hall’s visitors satiate their munchies at Granville Island’s vibrant marketplace and explore the Downtown Eastside’s “pot block” of landmark weed buildings like the New Amsterdam Café.

      “The activists and events that took place in this city are integral in how we got to legalization,” he says. “Sharing those stories is how we push forward.”

      Hall launched the tour company in October of last year, just a week after the country ushered in a new framework for cannabis law. Alongside Arnold Warkentin, founder of the educational platform Informed High, he has since led walking tours around the city—all aimed at debunking myths, unpacking the drug war, and clarifying regulations.

      “The core reason I started this company is really to destigmatize responsible use through creating positive experiences with cannabis,” he says, adding that 4.2 percent of the company’s profits go to organizations fighting for international legalization.

      “I called it The Movement Tours because I’d like to support a normalization movement across the world by giving tourists a chance to try it in a safe and comfortable setting.”

      Hall led his first recreational-themed tour on January 5. Now that Vancouver has legal dispensaries, the curated shopping trip provides guests with a chance to exercise their newfound purchasing and consumption rights.

      “No one has to consume—they can if they so choose—but my goal is to provide them with some context so they are more comfortable coming in contact with the industry,” he says.

      The tour begins with a brief history of prohibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, ground zero for a handful of legalization protests. Guests can then buy weed while exploring a licensed dispensary, learn about various consumption methods at a cannabis-accessory store, and enjoy the high during an immersive gaming experience at a virtual-reality arcade.

      Each tour also includes a breakdown of public-consumption laws—ensuring that anyone who chooses to spark up does so in a legal area.

      “I think legalization provides a huge opportunity to educate groups who have historically been opposed to cannabis,” Hall says, adding that many of his customers come from regions with outdated drug policies and deeply embedded stereotypes.

      “My hope is just to send people home with a more positive or realistic outlook on cannabis and have them feel comfortable talking about their experiences with their friends and families.”

      With Health Canada’s restrictions on promotion and education, Hall is limited in what he can actually say about weed.

      Cannabis tourism consultant John Hewson praises educators like Hall but says stringent guidelines around disseminating information are detrimental. If Canada wants to be a global leader, he believes, government funds need to be directed to validating health claims about the plant so organizations can make assertions to counter the dominant fear-based narrative.

      “I believe there will be disappointment for tourists expecting our legal framework to be more open than it is. Right now, it’s incredibly restric­tive,” Hewson says.

      “If we don’t embrace cannabis tourism, we run the risk of tourists coming and finding it in their own way and maybe having a negative experience.”

      “It’s been really tricky,” Hall says. “You can’t advertise places to go for cannabis consumption, or a place to go after consumption, or promote use. I’ve navigated that by providing a lot of history, anecdotal stories, information about the laws, and just creating space for people to make their own informed decisions about cannabis.”