02 OCT 2018: Many Canadians have October 17, 2018 marked on their calendars when the new Cannabis Act comes into force in Canada.  I’m sure there will be masses of people lighting up everywhere.  Some Canadians will be rejoicing that recreational use of marijuana is finally legal while others like me will be lamenting the onslaught of more smoke-filled public spaces.   What effects will there be on the tourism industry here in Canada? Will it attract or detract more tourists from coming?

I’m all about individual liberties and in terms of legalizing recreational cannabis I don’t have an issue with it.  I personally had one toke when I was 16 - it was more a peer pressure thing to satisfy other friends.  That one toke was enough for me.  Smoking of any kind from cigarettes to cigars has no appeal to me.  The awful taste, the smell on your body and clothes, the adverse health effects and frankly I’m too cheap to spend money on something like that.   

POT AND POSTS

Cannabis legislation will have a direct effect on Canada’s tourism industry. How much?  It’s too early to say but one thing is for certain – it will prevent some tourists who are opposed to legalizing marijuana and do not want to be around it, to consider visiting other countries.  With so many holiday options it could be a deciding factor for some tourists. On October 17th there will be a flood of worldwide media coverage on Canada’s new legislation on You Tube and news outlets with pictures of people smoking in parks, on the street, on the water, in the mountains, couples holding hands and holding joints, and various other visual smoking moments.   Canada will be viewed as a nation of tokers!  

There will be a classic Canadian shot – hockey stick in one hand, joint in the other with a Tim Horton’s coffee on the side – Oh Canada!

Social media will be inundated with Facebook posts and Instagram pictures of people smoking, and how cool Canada is? Not just the weather but our pot laws.  

SAFETY FIRST

I have major safety concerns about the operation of transportation systems that both citizens and tourists would utilize.   

Air Canada last week announced its cannabis use policy for employees in a statement, “Employees working in safety-critical areas at the company, including flight operations and aircraft maintenance, will be prohibited from using cannabis and cannabis products at all times, both on-duty and off-duty.” The remaining staff not covered by the policy are banned from using cannabis while on duty or at their workplace.

This policy makes sense with safety being the top priority.  Would you want a pilot that is high flying the plane?  Or a mechanic too stoned, possibly forgetting to tighten those bolts in the engine or conducting a system check?  

How a destination is perceived is important.  If it is perceived that Canadian transportation handlers such as pilots, taxi drivers, tour bus drivers, airport limo drivers, train conductors, boat and ferry captains may be high, visitors might think twice about Canada, since their safety could be compromised.   Many companies are scrambling right now to put cannabis policies in place.   

NEW LAW CREATES CHALLENGES FOR TRAVEL

For those tourism operators who may have services or locations in various provinces and territories, it can be tricky.  They need to know what the Cannabis Act does and does not have jurisdiction over, and how each province may implement the regulations and distribution.    

Provinces and territories can set the rules around the following:  how cannabis is sold, where stores may be located and how stores must be operated.  They can also set the added restrictions or regulations around lowering possession limits, increasing the minimum age, restricting where cannabis may be used in public and setting added requirements on personal cultivation.   

It’s important to note that not all forms of cannabis will be available for sale as of October 17th – it is only allowed in these forms: cannabis oil, fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis plant seeds, cannabis plants.  This is important to note for any spa or hotel/resort that has a retail operation.  

It will be challenging for tour operators.  Take just a simple example. Say you own a tour boat along the Ottawa River.  You allow people to smoke on the outside deck. In Ontario they just enacted legislation saying any location where people can smoke now cannabis users will be able to smoke – e.g. parks, public streets, etc.  In Ontario you will need to be 19 to smoke marijuana - the province’s drinking age. If the tour boat heads to the Quebec side on the river you only need to be 18 to smoke (and drink).   Do you tell everyone who is 18 they can only smoke up when cruising Quebec waters?  

What about people owning resorts or spas? One of Canada’s best spas, Ste. Anne’s in Grafton, Ontario will be offering cannabis-based treatments (without the THC) and launching a cannabis-based skin care product line. Others are following suit.  Will spas here in Canada allow pot smoking? I don’t see that happening inside the spa, but what about Nordic style spas?  What about tour escorts? Can they smoke on duty if customers can?

Many hotels now are smoke-free but will there be a cannabis-smoking zone or perhaps designate a floor?   Will hotels allow their employees to smoke during lunch or breaks while on duty?  Do you want to deal with a front desk clerk who may be high? Would they be as productive?

Walking Toronto’s streets, it’s hard to escape the noticeable and (at least for me), unpleasant odour from a joint.  Others love the smell but I’m thankful after many decades of progressively restrictive smoking laws one can breathe again.  I fear that may be lost with the new law.  

Will I find serenity going to the beach or a mountain hike or find a trail of pot smokers?  I have no issue with it being legalized but do have serious safety concerns with smoking in public spaces. It boils down to even just a simple airport taxi ride.  Do you put your trust in someone who might have just smoked a joint?  I also wonder about the effects on children that will now be exposed to all this second-hand smoke.    

Will tourism boards or travel organizations here in Canada be proactive in promoting the new relaxation on marijuana laws and try to attract younger generations (even though many baby boomers and older do smoke weed as well) or just lay low and see how people and society react?  My guess is some tourism establishments may go after the market and may offer things like cannabis tours, like in Denver. Most in the tourism industry will wait to see how all the provincial and municipalities deal with the new law.  

I do hope the tourism industry doesn’t go up in smoke and tourists both from here and abroad can still enjoy Canada’s natural beauty without a waft of smoke in the air.  

Should Canada’s tourism industry embrace the new law and promote it to attract tourists?  How will it affect your travel agency or company operation or any tours you may offer?

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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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