CANNABIS Van­cou­ver’s weed tourism blooms

The Georgia Straight - - Cannabis - By

Piper Courte­nay

With re­cent changes to fed­eral drug laws, Canada is poised to be a ma­jor com­peti­tor for weed tourism. Keenan Hall, founder of The Move­ment Cannabis Tours, be­lieves that B.C.’S his­tory and re­tail land­scape place Van­cou­ver in con­tention with in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned pot hot spots like Am­s­ter­dam and Colorado.

“I think Van­cou­ver is prob­a­bly one of the best places in the en­tire world to have a cannabis ex­pe­ri­ence,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Straight by phone.

High­light­ing the city’s 420 cul­ture, Hall’s vis­i­tors sa­ti­ate their munchies at Granville Is­land’s vi­brant mar­ket­place and ex­plore the Down­town East­side’s “pot block” of land­mark weed build­ings like the New Am­s­ter­dam Café.

“The ac­tivists and events that took place in this city are in­te­gral in how we got to le­gal­iza­tion,” he says. “Shar­ing those sto­ries is how we push for­ward.”

Hall launched the tour com­pany in Oc­to­ber of last year, just a week af­ter the coun­try ush­ered in a new frame­work for cannabis law. Along­side Arnold Warkentin, founder of the ed­u­ca­tional plat­form In­formed High, he has since led walk­ing tours around the city—all aimed at de­bunk­ing myths, un­pack­ing the drug war, and clar­i­fy­ing reg­u­la­tions.

“The core rea­son I started this com­pany is re­ally to des­tig­ma­tize re­spon­si­ble use through cre­at­ing pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with cannabis,” he says, adding that 4.2 per­cent of the com­pany’s prof­its go to or­ga­ni­za­tions fight­ing for in­ter­na­tional le­gal­iza­tion.

“I called it The Move­ment Tours be­cause I’d like to sup­port a nor­mal­iza­tion move­ment across the world by giv­ing tourists a chance to try it in a safe and com­fort­able set­ting.”

Hall led his first recre­ation­althemed tour on Jan­uary 5. Now that Van­cou­ver has le­gal dis­pen­saries, the cu­rated shop­ping trip pro­vides guests with a chance to ex­er­cise their new­found pur­chas­ing and con­sump­tion rights.

“No one has to con­sume—they can if they so choose—but my goal is to pro­vide them with some con­text so they are more com­fort­able com­ing in con­tact with the in­dus­try,” he says.

The tour be­gins with a brief his­tory of pro­hi­bi­tion at the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery, ground zero for a hand­ful of le­gal­iza­tion protests. Guests can then buy weed while ex­plor­ing a li­censed dis­pen­sary, learn about var­i­ous con­sump­tion meth­ods at a cannabisac­ces­sory store, and en­joy the high dur­ing an im­mer­sive gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at a vir­tual-re­al­ity ar­cade.

Each tour also in­cludes a break­down of pub­lic-con­sump­tion laws— en­sur­ing that any­one who chooses to spark up does so in a le­gal area.

“I think le­gal­iza­tion pro­vides a huge op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate groups who have his­tor­i­cally been op­posed to cannabis,” Hall says, adding that many of his cus­tomers come from re­gions with out­dated drug poli­cies and deeply em­bed­ded stereo­types.

“My hope is just to send peo­ple home with a more pos­i­tive or re­al­is­tic out­look on cannabis and have them feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their ex­pe­ri­ences with their friends and fam­i­lies.”

With Health Canada’s re­stric­tions on pro­mo­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, Hall is lim­ited in what he can ac­tu­ally say about weed.

Cannabis con­sul­tant John Hew­son praises ed­u­ca­tors like Hall but says strin­gent guide­lines around dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion are detri­men­tal. If Canada wants to be a global leader, he be­lieves, gov­ern­ment funds need to be di­rected to val­i­dat­ing health claims about the plant so or­ga­ni­za­tions can make asser­tions to counter the dom­i­nant fear-based nar­ra­tive.

“I be­lieve there will be dis­ap­point­ment for tourists expecting our le­gal frame­work to be more open than it is. Right now, it’s in­cred­i­bly re­stric­tive,” Hew­son says.

“If we don’t em­brace cannabis tourism, we run the risk of tourists com­ing and find­ing it in their own way and maybe hav­ing a neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“It’s been re­ally tricky,” Hall says. “You can’t ad­ver­tise places to go for cannabis con­sump­tion, or a place to go af­ter con­sump­tion, or pro­mote use. I’ve nav­i­gated that by pro­vid­ing a lot of his­tory, anec­do­tal sto­ries, in­for­ma­tion about the laws, and just cre­at­ing space for peo­ple to make their own in­formed de­ci­sions about cannabis.”

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