What Is Cannabis Tourism?
People plan vacations around all sorts of themes, from outdoor adventure to pop culture fandom and wine. In recent years, a newer travel area has become increasingly popular: cannabis tourism.
“Cannabis tourism can be defined as leisure travel done for the purpose of indulging in marijuana use in areas where it is legal,” Sean Roby, CEO of the cannabis-friendly lodging marketplace Bud and Breakfast, told HuffPost.
“It is akin to the wine industry, where travelers gather from all over the world to check out the vineyards in a specific region,” Roby added. “Similar is the case with cannabis tourism, when people visit the places where pot is legal. They can spend some time there, not just indulging in cannabis consumption but also doing other recreational things during the visit.”
As more states and countries legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, so grows the number of out-of-town visitors arriving in search of cannabis-based experiences.
So, what should travelers know about cannabis tourism, or “canna-tourism”?
Below, experts break down the offerings, history, controversy and projections for the future.
The cannabis tourism experience
As a growing area of the travel industry, cannabis tourism entails an increasingly wide range of activities and experiences.
“Cannabis travel activities today center around well-being,” said Brian Applegarth, founder of the Cannabis Travel Association International and California Cannabis Tourism Association. “Cannabis is approached by travelers as a tool to improve quality of life and enhance experiences while on vacation. Cannabis visitors to a destination are medical-minded, leisure-orientated, or often a blend of both. Today’s travelers often include cannabis and CBD-infused activities like spa treatments as part of their destination itinerary.”
There are also opportunities to learn about the history of the herb with cannabis tours and educational seminars. From farm stays to apartment rentals and weed-friendly hotels, various lodgings have their own unique offerings as well.
“Our top hosts that are now sold out for three to six months in advance are the ones that have a bud bar, a cannabis yoga class, a professional chef that cooks micro-dosed infused meals for the guests, a CBD-infused masseuse on call, sushi and joint rolling, puff and paint, a zip line over a pinot noir and cannabis field,” Roby said. “We’ve seen them all and our hosts are getting very creative, to say the least.”
At a minimum, a basic Bud and Breakfast host might offer lodging that allows marijuana (though perhaps requires that any smoking take place outside in the yard) and can provide information about nearby dispensaries or other recommendations. These accommodations may appeal to those who simply want a safe place to enjoy cannabis as part of their lifestyle ― or even to medical travelers seeking treatment for themselves or their children.
The platform’s “super hosts,” however, go a step further by curating all-inclusive experiences.
“Really, in our eyes, what defines a ‘super host’ is that they are basically a Wikipedia of all things cannabis,” Roby explained. “They have their finger on the pulse of all related activities/events that go well with cannabis and help the guest really experience the entire stay through the eyes of a local within this genre of travel.”
The rise of marijuana-motivated travel
Although cannabis tourism has started getting more attention in recent years, it’s not exactly new.
“I became aware of cannabis travel experiences in Amsterdam in the 1990s ― I remember hearing about The Bulldog and other cannabis cafes and coffee shops that were one-of-a-kind experiences for travelers to enjoy,” Applegarth said. “Going back a bit further with the cannabis travel trend, if you look closely at the history of the Silk Road, the hippie trail, or the surf culture of the 1950s, cannabis was absolutely a central part of it. After California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, the state welcomed patients from around the world seeking help.”
The legalization of recreational marijuana in individual states starting in 2012 helped cannabis tourism grow into a more active sector of the travel industry. In fact, a 2022 report from Forbes estimates that cannabis tourism is a $17 billion industry in its own right.
Cultivar Strategies, Applegarth’s cannabis travel consulting firm, partnered with the hospitality marketing agency MMGY Global to conduct research on the growing field.
“The research revealed that 37% of the active leisure travel audience in the United States are cannabis-experience motivated, up 8% from 2020,” Applegarth explained. “Cannabis, hemp and CBD sales soared during the pandemic as people needed to cope with difficult and unpredictable situations. Today, 70% of Gen Z travelers say that legal access to cannabis while on vacation matters.”
In the U.S., destinations like Oakland, California, have embraced the opportunity to stimulate the local economy through cannabis-motivated travel. The city’s official tourism bureau, Visit Oakland, even developed the Oakland Cannabis Trail to inspire travel plans, support local businesses and keep visitors comfortable and engaged along the way.
“We created a program to capitalize on the growing cannabis travel trend and enrich our visitor experience,” said Peter Gamez, president and CEO of Visit Oakland. “If cannabis is part of one’s lifestyle, visitors want to access products while traveling. This has been good for local dispensaries in Oakland and beyond, as well as product makers across the country. Visitors can now access everything from edibles to health aids to cannabis strands that address different needs and appeal to an array of tastes.”
Bud and Breakfast began in 2002 with a coastal inn in Mendocino, California, and expanded over time to connect a broader number of travelers to weed-friendly accommodations and experiences around the world.
“Because more and more people are using cannabis and wanting it when they travel, this has opened up the door for business owners to fill a gap to accommodate 420 travelers,” Roby said.
Ayanna Lawson believes marijuana-based tourism offers “a lower risk path into a highly volatile industry.” Her company, Front Row Travels, offers curated travel experiences for cannabis users, as well as education for marginalized community members looking to build a brand in cannabis tourism.
“Far too often people try to the enter the industry through dispensary ownership or grow facilities not anticipating the hardships that many owners face,” Lawson explained. Cannabis tourism “is unique in that it touches multiple sectors within the cannabis industry ― farming/agriculture, technology, hospitality, arts/music, etc. The possibilities are endless. Cannabis-friendly destinations such as Mexico, Canada and Uruguay are also generating millions of dollars through cannabis-focused tourism.”
The lingering controversy
Although there’s been a great deal of progress in the understanding and acceptance of marijuana usage, stigma remains.
“Cannabis travel is a controversial topic because it is still misunderstood by many,” Applegarth said. “Fear or judgment about cannabis itself and cannabis travel and tourism activities comes from those who are uninformed, and are often hyperfocused on smoking and the negative impacts from activated THC overconsumption.”
Roby pointed out that the legalization of recreational cannabis only started within the last decade.
“As with alcohol prohibition, it will take a few years to normalize on a social level but one only needs to look at states like Colorado, California, Massachusetts and most other recreational states to see how quickly attitudes change” post-prohibition, with cannabis becoming “a welcome attribute to the local people and economy,” Roby said.
Beyond giving travelers the opportunity to relax and have fun, the growing cannabis tourism industry can educate people about the drug and help break down the stigma.
“For decades we have been told misinformation and lies about cannabis and cannabis users,” Lawson said. “But people are starting to unlearn what they’ve been told about cannabis. Cannabis tourism can provide the answers to the questions many have through farm tours, workshops, networking events, infused dinners and more.”
Even in states where the drug is legal, marijuana still feels outside many people’s comfort zones. There’s a lingering sense of taboo as it remains illegal on a federal level.
“Over 30 states have a medical cannabis program and over 15 states have said yes to adult recreational cannabis,” Lawson explained. “Despite an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens voting to decriminalize cannabis in some capacity, cannabis is still currently listed as a Schedule I drug and is federally prohibited. So, you essentially have an industry that is illegal and legal at the same time. This conflict is wreaking havoc on the cannabis industry.”
The idea of cannabis tourism also presents a stark contradiction when you consider that more than 40,000 Americans are currently estimated to be incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. It’s tough to reconcile the idea of people languishing behind bars because of weed while others have the privilege to plan vacations around it.
Outside the U.S., there’s further confusion around the implications of recent decisions to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in various countries or regions within them. (And movies like “Midnight Express” and “Return to Paradise” instilled a sense of panic around drugs for many would-be international travelers.)
“A patchwork of complicated laws and regulations regarding recreational cannabis use by overseas tourists means questions remain about the legality of consumption, the transport of cannabis vape pens overseas as well as issues of insurance coverage and health care, during and after travel,” Michael O’Regan wrote in The Conversation in June.
Wherever your travels take you, do your best to research the regulations in place before making marijuana part of the experience.
The future of cannabis tourism
Despite the lingering stigma and legal confusion, industry experts remain optimistic about cannabis tourism.
“Cannabis tourism will continue to grow,” Gamez predicted. “There are ready, willing, and surprisingly affluent cannabis travelers that prefer cannabis experiences while on vacation. Restaurants, attractions, shops, hotels and more will find ways to incorporate this in their daily offerings.”
Applegarth pointed to the trend of “effect pairing cannabis” that’s taking off in certain sectors.
“Like food pairs with wine, cannabis pairs with activities and experiences,” he explained. “Effect pairing is the art of selecting and consuming cannabis in an effort to optimally enhance an activity or experience. An example of this is a cannabis cultivar that when consumed, stimulates appetite and sharpens the palate prior to enjoying a Michelin star meal while on vacation.”
Applegarth also believes cannabis tourism will continue to center around wellness-related experiences, both in a medical or leisure travel sense.
“Cannabis, hemp and CBD will continue to intersect with culinary, spa, and beyond,” Applegarth said. “For altered state THC-rich cannabis travel experiences, ‘mindset and setting’ will increasingly become an area of focus and high-touch curation, playing up sensory experiences.”
Unlike wine-related travel, which is limited to specific regions that specialize in quality production, cannabis tourism has wider geographic potential.
“Cannabis is everywhere around the world in urban locations, rural locations and everything in between, which means it will exponentially grow much larger,” Roby said. “And there is no shoulder season with cannabis tourism. Our hosts have cannabis activities all year round.”
And with countries like Germany moving to legalize cannabis on a federal level, Roby believes the market potential is endless. He noted that Bud and Breakfast had seen a triple increase in revenue every year until the pandemic slowdown and has finally returned to pre-pandemic levels of record growth.
“Cannabis tourism is just getting started and will grow into the hundreds of billions of dollars within a few years time,” Roby said. “This will occur in conjunction with nations around the world developing compassionate and rational policies towards cannabis and its use.”