Cannabis Tourism in Canada

Where It Will Flourish and Where It Won't

As Canadians and the rest of the world await this coming summer when Canada will become the 1st G20 Country to legalize cannabis for recreational use, there are some things the “herbal tourist” should know before booking their weed trip to the Great Green North!

Federal legislation does not stipulate how cannabis will be sold and distributed throughout the country, but rather each province is charged with creating their own system of sales, distribution, tracking, testing, and taxation of legal pot, as well as setting the legal age for consumption. The Federal Government has set the legal age at 18, but each province has the right to set their own legal age limit.

Before heading to one of Canada's most popular destinations to experience legal weed, below is a breakdown of a few things the cannabis tourist should know to ensure you have the experience you are hoping to have.

Of the provinces with the highest tourist trade, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, let's take a brief look at the framework in place in terms of their '420 Tourist Friendly' attributes.

In Ontario:

  • Attorney General Yasir Naqvi launched the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC), the province’s new marijuana monopoly. Only the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation can sell cannabis for recreational purposes.
  • The OCRC plans to open only 40 stand-alone retail shops throughout the entire province of Ontario, increasing to 150 stores by 2020 selling only dried cannabis and oils.
  • Edible marijuana products will not be sold until the federal government begins regulating them, which could be years away
  • Edibles are legal only when homemade in a private residence
  • Only those 19 and over can buy and consume cannabis
  • Cannabis can ONLY be consumed in private homes
  • Cannabis use will be prohibited in ALL public places, workplaces, or in cars, trucks, and boats.
  • Toughened penalties for motorists who drive stoned with increased fines and jail time.
  • Up to 30 grams of cannabis can be carried without penalty.

In Quebec:

  • The ‘Société Québécoise du Cannabis’ (SQC), which will be under the umbrella of the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), will have, like Ontario, complete monopoly over the purchase and sales of any cannabis products.
  • The SQC will be establishing just 15 stores across the province, as well as managing online sales.
  • The legal age to buy and use cannabis will be 18 years of age.
  • The same restrictions applying to smoking tobacco in public places will also apply to cannabis. Pot smokers will have to keep a determined distance from public buildings and clubs.
  • Smoking pot will be banned in places like bus shelters, arenas, parks or near community centers, elementary and secondary schools.
  • Zero tolerance restrictions for the presence of THC for drivers.

In Alberta:

  • The Provincial government plans to control the online sale of legalized marijuana but will leave over-the-counter sales to private operators. There’s no set limit on the number of stores allowed in the province.
  • Legal consumption age is 18.
  • Cannabis will be sold in the form of loose weed, pre-rolled joints, and oil. Also allowed are related products such as lighters and rolling papers.
  • Personal carry limit is 30 grams per person. No limit on the amount in the home.

In British Columbia:

  • Cannabis will be sold through privately run retail stores and government-operated wholesale stores and online sales.
  • British Columbia’s minimum age to possess, purchase and consume cannabis will be 19 years old.
  • Adults aged 19 and above, will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in a public place.
  • Adults will be permitted to use cannabis in public spaces where tobacco smoking and vaping are permitted but banned in areas including community beaches, parks and playgrounds.
  • Use of cannabis, in any form, will also be banned for all occupants in vehicles.

I recently moved back to Ontario after living in Denver, Colorado for the past 22 years, where I became quite accustomed to visiting many of the 300 plus dispensaries that grace the “Mile High City” and surrounding areas.

I owned and operated a small yet very successful business in the cannabis tourism industry where daily I learned what the herbal tourist expects to experience during their first visit to a legal weed dispensary and most importantly how that experience measured up.

I had my work cut out for me in critiquing literally hundreds of dispensaries and narrowing it down to the top 3 to take my clients. But it was worth it to see the wonderment in the faces of the “first timer” after being treated to fantastic customer service from educated “bud-tenders” and a wide selection of high-quality cannabis and related products.

The biggest misstep in Colorado's legislation in terms of the “tourist experience” was in not allowing for consumption lounges where people can legally consume the product they just purchased, and paid state and local tax on. People travel to Denver, as they will to Canada, to not just spend their money on enjoying cannabis. They spend at hotels and restaurants, bars, tours, sporting events, concerts, as well as ride services and concierge services like my own.

From the day cannabis became legal for recreational use on January 1st, 2014 in Colorado, cannabis aficionados, connoisseurs and first-timers alike from around the world flocked to Colorado.

Provinces in Canada that will experience a massive boom in tourism and revenue from cannabis will be those that;

  • Allow for privately owned and operated retail cannabis stores giving the shopper a variety of products and experiences.
  • Allow for privately owned establishments (lounges) that allow the legal consumption of cannabis.
  • Restrict the use of cannabis to public areas that allow cigarette smoking.
  • Offer efficient transportation options (cannabis tour guides, ride-share services, taxi cabs and public transportation).

Clearly, provinces in the western part of Canada, B.C, and Alberta, stand to reap the rewards of a soon to be thriving cannabis tourism market.

To put things in perspective, let's look at the state of Colorado and the province of Ontario for comparison sake. Given B.C and Alberta will have a framework much like that of Colorado it will be easy to see how Ontario government may very well be setting itself up for failure allowing western provinces to lead the way in Canadian Herbal Tourism.

Colorado

  • In just the first ten months of 2017 cannabis sales in Colorado topped $1 Billion making 2017 the highest grossing sales year to date.
  • This 10 month period generated almost $250 million in state and local tax revenue.
  • The population of Colorado currently stands at roughly 5.5 million people.
  • Colorado employs the free-market system of sales and distribution of cannabis allowing for over 300 privately owned dispensaries.
  • The cannabis industry alone employs over 18,000 people in Colorado.
  • Legal consumption lounges do exist though very few, however, legislation is being drafted to allow for more.

Ontario

  • Ontario's population hovers around 14.5 million people, the majority of whom live in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
  • The Ontario government will be opening a mere 40 retail cannabis stores throughout the entirety of the province, with a projected 150 stores by 2020.
  • Consumption of cannabis will be restricted to residential homes only.
  • Consumption lounges, of which there are currently many, are not slated to become legal establishments.

Both Alberta and British Columbia will be in a tight race for the highest increase in tourism following national legalization this coming summer. Ontario on the other hand, the most populated province in Canada, will unfortunately not be the place to go to enjoy the experience legal cannabis in Canada this summer. 

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