Article by Calum Marsh, Windsor Star
One mild afternoon a few weeks ago, out on Queen Street West in flannels, walking my girlfriend’s Dachshund, I was approached by a man with a beseeching look. “Hey there,” he said, a touch of Staten Island in the accent. “Do you know where I can buy some pot?”
Well, sure, I started—you just have to pop in to a dispensary, and there are dispensaries all over… “I thought so, too,” he said. “But somebody told me all the dispensaries are closed.”
Then I remembered: For reasons too obscure to explain to the bewildered tourist in front of me, exactly around the time cannabis was legalized across Canada last fall, the privately owned, dubiously lawful boutiques that had swarmed downtown Toronto were shuttered. I mumbled something apologetic about having to order the stuff online. The man looked thwarted. “Humph,” he sighed. “I thought weed was supposed to be legal in this country.”
Isn’t it? Speculation about Canada’s cannabis tourism industry—often referred to, somewhat annoyingly, as “canna-tourism”—has been rampant since legalization seemed like even a distant possibility. Pundits predicted we’d become the ultimate destination for the world’s pot pilgrimages, the economy invigorated as an influx of spendthrift travellers descend upon our cities to partake of our wares. Just days after actual legalization, the CBC interviewed Sean Roby, founder of the marijuana-oriented hospitality company, Bud and Breakfast, on what he believes will become a “multi-billion dollar industry.” A former dispensary owner turned tour planner told Toronto’s CityNews he expected cannabis, the “new champagne,” to attract couples for romantic getaways and weed-themed weddings.
“Canada is about to go gaga for ganja,” gushed a British journalist. “Could it be the next big thing for tourism?”
This optimism is backed up by data, more or less. Deloitte recently issued the results of a survey conducted late last year of “current and likely recreational cannabis consumers across the country.” Bearing the intriguing title, A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom, it concludes, basically, that legalized pot is a galactic supernova of moneymaking potential; in the first year after legalization, weed “is expected to generate up to $7.17 billion in total sales.”
Shaman Ferraro, CEO of a cannabis tourism guide called Gocanna, estimates based on this study and others that marijuana could bring another $2 billion into the country from tourist spending alone.
It could all happen: Canada’s major cities could become so many Amsterdams. Ontario cannabis is now available at retail. By funny coincidence, the first brick-and-mortar cannabis dispensary in Toronto opened its doors on the morning of April 1, almost exactly where that frustrated American had asked me for pot weeks before. Another shop in Toronto has since opened.
Other provinces offer easier access to tourists. Alberta and British Columbia have been opening stores regularly for the last six months. A visitor hitting the Maritimes from, say, New England, would have no shortage of legal marijuana to smoke. There are 20 retailers across New Brunswick. In Nova Scotia, you can buy weed in liquor stores, secure behind partitions in dedicated aisles.