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Americans won't be flocking to Canada for marijuana vacations anytime soon

(Photo by Chris Roussakis / AFP)

Michael Eymer, the founder of Colorado-based tourism company Cannabis Tours, was eagerly eyeing expansion plans to Canada as soon as he found out that recreational cannabis would become legal across the country.

Cannabis Tours has already expanded from Denver, Colo. to several cities across the United States, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Portland and Boston. Expanding to Vancouver, B.C. seemed like a natural next step for the company, Eymer said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. But what he says are strict rules about consumption have put potential Canadian expansion plans on hold.

“The regulations are going to be tough,” Eymer said. “It seems like commercial public consumption is being banned in a good amount of areas… It was a real let down for me. I was hoping to offer something near the same tours and events we have here, but I think we’ll have to wait and see.”

While many have touted the potential of a cannabis tourism boom in Canada, there are still questions surrounding the rules and regulations around marijuana tourism that may see some entrepreneurs stay on the sidelines until there is more clarity.

Longtime marijuana advocate Neev Tapiero launched his Toronto-based company Canadian Kush Tours several months before recreational marijuana was legalized last week.

Neev Tapeiro, who launched his Toronto-based company Canadian Kush Tours several months before recreational marijuana was legalized last week, said while there has been some interest from tourists – particularly from the United States – he expects increased adoption and popularity in the tourism industry will take some time.

“The tourism and hotel industry is fairly conservative by nature, so I think they are mostly taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Tapeiro, who found finding accommodations for his cannabis tours an “uphill battle.”

“I think they’re still figuring out how to explore this new industry without offending their existing clientele… or testing to the limits of regulations,” he said.

Recreational cannabis was officially legalized last Wednesday, but regulations vary province-by-province. In B.C., for example, people will not be able to smoke cannabis in public parks, on public patios, in vehicles, or within six metres of doorways, windows, or air intakes of public buildings, bus stops or bus shelters. Some of these rules make tourism opportunities more difficult, Eymer says. Cannabis Tour’s most popular activity in Colorado is a bus tour where people can smoke in the vehicle, but based on B.C.’s rules, he wouldn’t be able to offer that tour in Vancouver.

“Canada is of huge interest for us, but what we need to see is reasonable social consumption laws constructed,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) declined an interview request from Yahoo Finance, saying the organization had no comment on cannabis tourism at this time. In August, TIAC president Charlotte Bell told the Canadian Press that there was a lack of clarity from federal, provincial and municipal governments regarding cannabis rules in the months leading up to legalization. Marijuana tourism will be discussed at a November meeting for the organization, whose members include concert halls, convention centres, festivals, restaurants, arenas, transportation and travel services.

In Colorado, marijuana tourism saw a boost once recreational cannabis was legalized. According to a 2017 report prepared for the Colorado Department of Revenue analyzing the marijuana market, Colorado welcomed 17 million out-of-state day visitors and 26.7 million out-of-state overnight visitors in 2016.

“Based on the data, approximately 6.5 million out-of-state visitors had 17.9 million marijuana use days in 2016,” the report said. The report also estimated that in 2017 there were 984,534 Colorado residents that were adult marijuana users, compared to 6.4 million visitors.

Eymer founded Cannabis Tours in January 2014, a year before recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, which turned out to be a lucrative business decision. In a 2017 interview with Yahoo Finance, Eymer said he earned $1.8 million in sales in 2016 alone, with sales increasing by 66 per cent in the first few months of 2017. His business has since expanded, not just to different locations, but in terms of event offerings. Classes and activities, such as a “Puff, Pass and Paint” class, have become increasingly popular, he says, particularly among locals.

Tapeiro hopes to see the same kind of opportunity in Canada. He’s currently in the midst of forming the Cannabis Tourism Association of Canada for the few tourism groups that are operating in Canada.

“Cannabis tours represents a really small portion of the industry,” he says, “but I’m hoping it will grow.”

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