The Growth of Cannabis in Destination Management

By: Matt Ozuna, Advocacy and Data Manager, Destinations International

Fast forward to 2040. What does cannabis tourism look, feel, taste, smell and sound like in your destination? The future may surprise you - so too might the past.

The cannabis industry has grown in leaps and bounds since 2012 when Colorado and Washington became the first states in the U.S. to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Since then, new markets such as California and Canada have legalized recreational cannabis and propelled worldwide consumer spending from $9.5 billion in 2017 to $12.2 billion in 2018.

Last year, Michigan voters joined a total of 33 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational and/or medical cannabis. Additionally, of the four U.S. territories to legalize medical cannabis, the Virgin Islands did so with a nod to tourism. The law allows "non-cannabis patients to visit and receive cannabis therapy as part of an in-patient program."

Cannabis-related legislation at the state level has grown exponentially in this legislative session. Source: Quorum

2018 also saw a wave of pro-cannabis politicians swept into office. These elected officials are helping to cultivate a bumper year for cannabis legislation across America - as of March 15, there were 338 state bills mentioning "cannabis" or "marijuana" in combination with "regulation, tax, legalization or decriminalize."

In Hawaii, recreational cannabis legislation saw its furthest legislative advance in years before it failed to come up for a vote in the Senate Health Committee on March 1. Though more than half of the members in the Hawaii Senate joined Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English to co-sponsor SB 686, the recreational cannabis legislation “fizzled as other leaders worried about contradicting federal law. . . and jeopardizing Hawaii’s existing medical marijuana program.

Cannabis legislation continued to advance in other state legislatures in March. Vermont's State Senate and New Mexico's House of Representatives passed new legislation that would regulate the sale of recreational cannabis just a short while ago. And New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) included $60 million in new cannabis tax revenue in his 2020 fiscal budget proposal.

As of March 15, 338 state-level bills related to cannabis have been introduced across the country, showing no preference for region or locale. Source: Quorum

Looking ahead, worldwide consumer spending on legal cannabis is forecasted to increase dramatically in 2019, growing 38% from the prior year to $16.9 billion. According to The State of Legal Marijuana Markets, 6th Edition (SOLMM6), it is projected to top $31 billion by 2022.

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Now, fast forward to 2040. Marijuana is mainstream and readily available in many states across the U.S. Someone born in 2019 is now ready to purchase recreational cannabis legally as a 21 year old adult. For example, let's say a woman named Tonya is from the mid-Atlantic region and is looking to celebrate her 21st birthday with a group of friends on a road trip. They are foodies, hikers and love indie folk music. Tonya and her friends wouldn't mind visiting a few microbreweries and cannabis dispensaries along their journey either. How will your destination resonate with Tonya and other visitors interested in cannabis tourism?

By 2040, the industry's growth will undoubtedly command more meetings and events at convention centers, hotels and outdoor venues. California's cannabis event circuit alone had more than 100,000 people attend shows throughout 2017. Pot shops too will change to include event space for social consumption and other programs. For example, one "social marijuana club" in Denver has regularly scheduled comedy, music and fitness programs for customers to enjoy while consuming cannabis.

By 2040, cannabis will be just as prominent as a destination's wine, beer or spirts scene. In some destinations, such as Aspen, CO, cannabis sales have already surpassed alcohol sales. Like wine, beer or distillery tours, cannabis tours will stress education and community - but they will also stress something else: wellness. Cannabidiol (CBD), a nonintoxicating compound found in the cannabis plant, may help individuals improve their quality of life by treating certain conditions such as pain, insomnia and anxiety.

By 2040, cannabis wellness offerings at boutique lodges, spas and resorts will experience a proliferation. Guests will have ability to indulge in an assortment of cannabis products including sophisticated cocktails, gourmet desserts as well as massages and body wraps. Offerings such as these already exist at select locations throughout the U.S. Consumers in this market segment will be highly sought after for their purchasing power and brand loyalty. For instance, the luxury retailer Barneys New York announced it will open a cannabis lifestyle and wellness shop in Beverly Hills, CA named "The High End."

Plenty of changes will come to the tourism and cannabis industries by 2040, resulting in many questions for the future of destinations. Will federal law change, allowing for more open consumption across the country? Will destination organizations be able to promote and develop cannabis as a tourism asset? Is your municipal government poised to take advantage of this new source of visitors and revenue? At the same time, will your local businesses, visitor centers and front-line staff be prepared for the legal and ethical challenges surrounding public consumption?

For Tonya and her friends in the year 2040, a cannabis trail map is just what they're looking for. Whether it's a cannabis greenhouse tour, locations of dispensaries, a list of cannabis-friendly accommodations, cool spaces where art, music and cannabis collide, or even a cannabis-infused spa treatment, the possibilities for new tourism development are endless. Cannabis culture is coming - is your destination ready?

About the Author

Matt Ozuna
Advocacy & Data Manager
Destinations International
Matt is from Walla Walla, WA where he received a liberal arts education from Whitman College. He assumed an educator role after college and worked with multicultural students at Whitman and within Walla Walla Public Schools. He gained hospitality and sales experience while working abroad in New Zealand and will complete a tourism consulting project in Italy as part of his graduate coursework at George Washington University.

Before assuming the position of Advocacy and Data Manager, Matt worked with Destinations International's Membership Engagement Team and managed two political campaigns during the 2016 election cycle.