The Reality Of Cannabis Tourism – California Road Map, By Che Capri

So, picture the scene. You arrive in California on vacation and check into your hotel. You’re aware that cannabis is now fully legal in the Golden State, so one night you decide to re-live a bit of your youth and pick up a couple of edibles at an award-winning dispensary.

The plan is that you and your partner will take a nibble and wait for the giggles and the mellow glow to kick in before heading into town for a fun night out.

You pick up a package of cannabis infused cookies and eat a couple because you’re on vacation and better to go slightly stronger and enjoy than spend the whole night wondering ‘am I feeling it?’ An hour passes and you aren’t feeling the effects, so you eat one more to nudge things along. Then it sets in…… Next thing you know you’re rooted to the floor, all kinds of monkey business breaking out in your mind and the trip just keeps getting stronger. The whole night ends up being one you won’t forget but not in a good way, and the only part of town you see is the stark light of the local A+E.

This may sound like a cautionary tale, but it’s an occurrence that has become more frequent in US states where weed world meets the real world in a newly-legalized environment. Hotel guests overdoing it on edibles they are legally entitled to buy and consume is a real thing these days, as is having a myriad of cannabis delivery services pitching up looking to drop off to guests and having to fumigate rooms because they stink of high grade.

Cannabis legalization over the past few years has opened the box on cannabis tourism with hotspots in South America and the Caribbean, Canada and a clutch of states in the USA. Cannabis tourism is now an actual thing and traditional businesses are starting to wake up to the fact and try to work out how it fits into what they do.

“There’s a point where traditional industries turn around and realize, ‘you know what, this thing isn’t going away’, so how do we as a business address what is happening here?” says Brian Applegarth who is the head of the California Cannabis Tourism Association.

“We’re in the second year of legalization and trend-setting hotels are incorporating cannabis products into their plans.” They are also keen to address what Brian refers to as ‘growing pain points’, the type of examples shown above where cannabis has an impact on the tourist experience that could be negative or positive, depending on how it is dealt with. The CCTA was initially set up in 2017 to provide a united cannabis voice for members who were operating in and around the tourism industry.

These included brands and dispensaries selling cannabis products to cannabis friendly tour operators and establishments, and that voice was united around the pillars of education, advocacy and networking. While initially a niche organization, 2019 saw a significant shift in interest as cannabis has converged with the mainstream with some major hotels coming to the CCTA for guidance. These include the exclusive Farmhouse Inn B+B, which is frequented by the well heeled including Hollywood A-listers, and the luxury hotel group Fairmount Miramar in Santa Monica. “Hotels are catching on quickly,” says Brian.

“Far more businesses are embracing this new reality rather than sticking their head in the sand. I mean, it’s hospitality, right? And cannabis is legal in California, right? At the end of the day responsible hotel operators are focused on giving their guests an extraordinary experience and guests increasingly want to include cannabis in some form. At the very least, hotels should be educating their staff; ‘Where can I buy it, where can I use it, and what is legal’ are three core questions that every hotel should be able to answer, right now.”Without that knowledge you’ve got the concierge frantically Googling dispensaries and delivery services with no idea as to the credibility or legal status of the businesses they are finding and recommending.

While there is a legal market in California, there are still a lot of illicit operators out there selling untested and potentially tainted products, creating unnecessary risk and potential harm. The CCTA is a resource for hotels, destinations and hospitality-based companies to better understand the cannabis, hemp and CBD opportunities that are entering global tourism trends. The CCTA promotes safe and responsible consumption and works to facilitate networking opportunities between its members.

“We have an online member forum and we host networking events throughout the state to support collaboration and exchange of information between members.” A significant factor in this new cannabis tourism has been its gradual filter into US popular culture in the past year or so as this new phenomenon has been picked up on by the like of the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine and even the Wine Enthusiast. Well respected source, Globaltrender – a magazine ‘dedicated to the future of travel’ – has placed cannabis tourism in its top trends for 2020 list and California is expecting to see an uplift in marijuana inspired visits as this trend continues.

As a result the mainstream is now getting involved and many of the issues hotels are identifying with are resulting from the curious, the inexperienced and the lapsed users (ie did it in their youth) who are interacting with cannabis products. Meanwhile there is of course a huge regular cannabis user market. The ‘dedicated’ cannabis tourist use to be a secret cannabis user first and a tourist second (but inevitably always looking to combine the two for a great vacation!), but this type of tourist now has the opportunity totailor their visit without having to seek out shady street dealers off the tourist strip to indulge in their passion. Early cannabis tourism data has already identified a new tourist category that views marijuana as an additional trip incentive and is interested in combining cannabis consumption with cannabis culture and experience.

One more note to add – which will come as no surprise to your old school cannabis tourist – this group is likely to spend three times more than other tourists on food and beverage.This is the present landscape, but what about the future of cannabis tourism? Brian explains that mainstream acceptance quickly escalating and travelers are engaging more and more with cannabis and CBD tourism, so now we must ask the question, ‘what is the road map ahead’? The experiential aspect is one which Brian sees as being a real game changer for the cannabis tourism industry and the CCTA has identified a number of key areas within the tourism sector.

Profiles include medical refugees arriving to California from other less tolerant US states and countries, health and wellness travellers seeking therapeutic and meditative pursuits such as spas, infused-massage and yoga, and connoisseur consumption, those who know their weed and are looking for an elevated experience in much the same way that wine enthusiasts flock to California’s Napa Valley vineyards. The likes of Green Dream Tours, Emerald Farm Tours and Humboldt Cannabis Tours are tapping into the demand for farm visits but also the rich history of cannabis activism in California as the source for cannabis heritage trails.

The famed Emerald Triangle is world renowned as a hotspot of marijuana knowledge and cultivation and the seeds for today’s legalization were sown in the fight for Proposition 215 in San Francisco and the rights of AIDS patients to access medical cannabis in the 1980s and 1990s. The CCTA is seeing the North California Cannabis Trail as a natural addition to California’s popular Napa Vine Road and the Marin Cheese Trail, where the heritage of the State’s cannabis history can be explored and enjoyed.

So, what is in store for 2020? Brian anticipates that there will be far more focus on a term he has coined, called Effect Pairing™, which refers to ‘the art of selecting and consuming a cannabis cultivar in an effort to optimally enhance an activity or experience.’ In line with research and development of the cannabis effect, tweaking cannabinoid levels and emphasizing terpenes, legalization has delivered the right environment to experiment with a sliding scale of effects that literally allows you to choose your own adventure. The aim is to produce a ‘flow state’ which is conducive with the activity you are engaging with. Brian gives the example of a wine and dining experience at a Michelin restaurant, where a strain such as Sonoma Coma (local to California), which is known for its appetite stimulation and enhanced sense of taste, would be the cannabis aperitif before the meal that would enhance the overall experience.

Other examples he cites are strains that will enhance your hiking experience and appreciation of the nature surrounding you (as opposed to chuffing away on a heavyweight bud that’s going to end up with you straying off the trail and getting lost!). In line with this different mindset of environment focused cannabis, he also predicts a shift in methods of ingestion, with cannabis drinkables being an area of expansion, especially amongst Millennials who are drinking less alcohol.

Using nano-technology and bioavailability (which increases the absorption rate so that you feel the effect within 15 minutes rather than the hour or so it takes for an edible to work) Brian anticipates micro-dosing will become more popular, and is also conducive to the effect pairing experience. It seems quaint now to think that not so long ago if you wanted to go on vacation to get high in the Western world then the only option was to jet off to the ‘Dam’ in order to smoke too much in a coffee shop and stumble around Holland’s capital getting lost and almost being run over by a tram.

While other regions of the world may be embracing cannabis tourism, if there is one place that is going to take it to the next level then – sure as eggs is eggs – that place is going to be California. The big winner will be the cannabis tourist who is going to get the vacation they always dreamed of (just beware of those deceptively tasty edibles…).

Published and Written By Che Capri In Weed World Magazine Issue 145

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