There’s a new kind of tourism budding across America, and it’s growing bigger every day. Cannabis is the future, they say. “They” are retailers, farmers, manufacturers, marketers, government officials, and a wide array of entrepreneurs who are cultivating both crops, and the tangential businesses related to marijuana, including hospitality.
Consumers too are, of course, enjoying greater access than ever before, but they are restricted to either the 29 states that have legalized medical cannabis or the eight states with legal recreational weed.
Tourism is a big factor in the weed industry’s exponential growth. Travelers are a curious bunch, and it doesn’t matter their level of experience—pot is an enticing reason for many people to explore and experiment, especially on vacation.
Just as laws and regulations are rapidly evolving across state and federal levels, so are the products themselves. There are ever-evolving strains of marijuana and ways to consume it. We’re talking about sativa vs. indica, THC vs. CBD, smoking vs. vaping, topicals vs. edibles, flower vs. wax vs. shatter vs. oil.
In other words, no matter how much you know about cannabis, there’s probably plenty more you don’t know. Perhaps that’s why the green frontier is as daunting as it is exciting.
The States of Things
Twenty-two years ago, California made waves by becoming the first state to legalize medical cannabis. That notion was radical in 1996, considering the US government long ago labeled marijuana a Schedule I drug—putting it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and cocaine as a federally illegal substance deemed devoid of medical benefits and with high abuse potential. By comparison, even crystal methamphetamine, opium, and most opioids are schedule II, suggesting they all offer medical benefits.
Yet California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 by nearly 56 percent, spurring four more state’s legal medical use in 1998, and two dozen more over the next two decades.
During the 2012 elections, the first recreational-marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington were enacted. With that vote, they became the testing-ground states, each with different regulations, licensing requirements, and taxation structures that, some believe, put undue financial burden on proprietors.
Still, tax revenue for each state’s cannabis sales was lofty from the start, raking in billions of dollars annually and rising. It caught the attention of other states, where consumers craved legal cannabis, lawmakers wanted more revenue, and entrepreneurs were eager to launch new businesses.
By 2016, six more states and the District of Columbia legalized recreational weed, and as of this year, anyone can walk into a dispensary and purchase cannabis in Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Massachusetts and Vermont will join the roster in July 2018. Maine and Washington D.C. technically have legalized recreational pot, but both are in limbo while lawmakers (including US Congress, in D.C.’s case) duke out the details of their voter-approved initiatives.
The plot of this story thickened in 2018, when the current federal administration threatened to curtail legal marijuana sales, mainly through a lawsuit. Little action has been taken thus far, however, and cannabis advocates and detractors alike believe that the bud train already left the station, and it’s too far down the line to be stopped or even slowed at this point.
In fact, several more states are expected to consider legalizing recreational weed this year (Michigan, New Jersey, and Rhode Island among them), while nearly a dozen more are likely to approve medical marijuana (if not recreational too), including Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Ohio, and Kentucky.
This complex scenario of state laws that conflict with federal law, and the many other regulatory evolutions, has not deterred suppliers or consumers from doing their thing. The complications and infighting seem increasingly absurd compared to Canada’s upcoming nationwide legalization, expected to be in place later this year. (Only Uruguay currently has legal pot nationally; but many countries are pot-friendly, like the Netherlands and Jamaica.)