Now that pot is legal, will Canada become the new Amsterdam?
But is the popularity of Canada’s new legal marijuana industry likely to trigger a flood of tourists into the country?
One cannabis tourism expert believes it may take a few years, but cities like Toronto could become the “new Amsterdam.”
“Canada is a big draw even without cannabis, as there are amazing natural resources and amazing cities here,” Matt Cronin, founder of Canadian High Tours, said.
“But now it’s just a matter of time for cannabis to become normalized and for people to accept it like they do alcohol, which will take time … and with edibles coming, it’s going to blow the tourism door wide open,” he added.
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He said he believes Toronto is going to become the next big global cannabis destination, even taking over Amsterdam’s popularity.
“Simply because of access, it’s close to America and a short flight from Britain, Germany … the Middle East and even Africa. It’s a lot harder to get to Vancouver, so that’s why Toronto may be the city.”
And he said as Canada is growing its cannabis industry, Amsterdam is clamping down on tourism, as the rising number of visitors has made life extremely unpleasant for residents.
Amsterdam clamping town on cannabis tourism
Amsterdam officials expect that 18 million tourists will visit the city this year, and many are there to try cannabis. According to Amsterdam officials, coffee shops play a vital role in Dutch tourism, with 25-30 per cent of tourists visiting them.
But that may soon change.
For decades, coffee shops in Amsterdam have allowed customers to buy and consume marijuana thanks to the Dutch toleration policy. The Netherlands’ soft drug policy has always been one of “tolerating” rather than legalizing. For example, it’s illegal for coffee shops to buy and supply their own weed, but the government will turn a blind eye to locals and tourists who want to smoke a joint in a coffee shop.
In recent years, the toleration has started to wane. According to the Economist, the Dutch government has been clamping down on coffee shops (especially near schools) and banning many from serving tourists cannabis.
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Will Toronto fill the void?
“Of course you cannot compare Amsterdam with any other Canadian city,” Cronin said. “But the city is clamping down and discouraging tourists from using [cannabis].”
So, many people who are interested in cannabis may look to Canada now, he said.
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Trina Fraser, an Ottawa-based lawyer specializing in cannabis, believes Canada, like Amsterdam, also has the potential to become a global marijuana destination.
“It’s not a crazy idea. We’re just not there yet as we don’t have consumption venues [like weed coffeeshops] yet,” she said. “There is nowhere in Canada when you can open a business where cannabis can be consumed; that has yet to come.”
But she still expects the cannabis tourism industry in Canada to take off — it just may take a little time.
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“I expect that [cannabis] tour companies will drive to places like Tweed [a cannabis producer in Smith Falls, Ont.] and take people on a tour of the facility,” she said. “Then the tour company can go to a retail store where people can purchase weed, then take them back to Ottawa where they can drop the tourists off at a friendly cannabis hotel. Then give them an educational program, like cooking with cannabis,” she said.
Cronin said his tour company is hoping to take visitors on trips just like this — and combine it with other Canadian experiences like cross-country skiing and ice fishing.
His tour company works out of major Canadian cities, like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal, and he hopes to cash in on the marijuana craze in each city.
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And of course, he said he has tour guides who can break down the legality of cannabis in each city.
Although weed is legal across Canada, the law differs in every province. For example, in British Columbia and Alberta you can consume cannabis anywhere it’s legal to smoke tobacco, except in cars, boats and places where children are present (example, the beach).
Manitoba and Saskatchewan completely banned smoking pot in public, including sidewalks and patios.
Fraser said despite the legal limitations with cannabis, she believes there will be innovative and creatives tourism services that can work within the restrictions of the industry.
And the Canadian government believes so, too. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada has scheduled a meeting to discuss pot driven-tourism at its congress in November. The group’s members include attractions, festivals, restaurants, concert halls, transportation and travel services.
“We’re not Amsterdam yet, but it’s certainly a novelty that we federally legalized cannabis,” she said.
— With files from Global News’ Josh K. Elliott
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