by Donald Wood
Last updated: 9:00 PM ET, Tue April 19, 2022
As the United States and other countries move to decriminalize the use of medical and recreational marijuana, many travelers are left wondering what kind of impact the legalization would have on domestic and international tourism.
In the U.S., recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C. and medical use is permitted in over 35 states. From an international perspective, countries like Canada have completely legalized the plants and more than 40 other nations support its use for recreational or medical reasons.
Malta recently legalized it. Germany is on the brink of full legalization for recreational use. Mexico has talked about the possibility of legalizing it someday, which would undoubtedly lead to a rise in travelers visiting popular places like Cancun and Los Cabos.
Marijuana tourism first took off in the United States but it is absolutely going global now.
In a study conducted in the Journal of Destination Marketing & Management, Soo Kanga and Jaeseok Lee break down the positive manner in which residents in Colorado have reacted to the influx of marijuana tourism-also known as cannabis tourism-following its legalization.
Research findings suggest that the more residents perceive a positive impact, the more likely they will support tourism.
To be blunt, the perception of weed has changed, and that's a good thing for travel.
"Every aspect of the travel industry could see a boost in sales," Travel Agent expert Tammy Levent said. "Travel agencies could sell more packages, transportation will increase, restaurants will have more patrons, hotels will enjoy more bookings, and even the entertainment establishments such as performing arts centers and sporting stadiums will see more guests."
A Gallup poll from August 2021 found that 49 percent of Americans have at least tried marijuana, with 12 percent of respondents regularly using it. The total is even more for Millennials (20 percent) as compared to Gen Xers (11 percent) and baby boomers (nine percent).
A study conducted by Kayak also found that nearly 33 percent of American travelers 21 years of age and older are interested in visiting a cannabis dispensary while traveling and about 25 percent of respondents ages 21-34 have already traveled to a destination because cannabis was legal.
"Cannabis tourism has come a long way over the past five-10 years," Front Row Travels' Ayanna Lawson said. "Initially seen as just a walk through a few weed farms and another reason to get high, the cannabis tourism industry as a whole is starting to pull back the curtain and mystery surrounding cannabis and plant medicine in general."
Another survey from MMGY Travel Intelligence-dubbed the Cannabis Tourism: Opportunities, Issues and Strategies report-found that 29 percent of all active leisure travelers (and 18 percent of all Americans) are interested in cannabis-related activities on vacation.
"It has been a positive impact because people can access cannabis easily and not fear breaking laws," Higher Way Travel's April Price said. "They can stay at cannabis-friendly hotels with the ease of mind knowing they will not be fined for smoking on the balcony."
The hotel industry is also looking to take advantage of the marijuana industry, as experts from Penn State claim worldwide sales are expected to hit $55.9 billion by 2026. With legalization in Colorado and Washington, hotel bookings grew by 3.5 percent and 7.2 percent when commercial sales began in 2014.
As a result, average room rates in Colorado jumped 3.8 percent.
"Smoking marijuana in public is still illegal, but many hotels and restaurants are also jumping on the tourism bandwagon by offering cannabis-friendly rooms that allow consumption, giving whole new meaning to a 'smoking' or 'non-smoking' section," Levent continued.
While more and more domestic and international destinations are welcoming marijuana tourism, it's important for travelers to know the legal limit someone is allowed to carry and all other restrictions associated with cannabis.
"Although many states have decriminalized or legalized cannabis in some form, patients may still be limited in the amount of potency they are allowed to consume or products that are allowed to have," Lawson continued. "Proper research and the ability to explore freely is a vital tool for cannabis patients."
While there is still much to learn about marijuana and its long-term impact on tourism, there is no denying that companies within the travel industry are looking to capitalize on the growing and widespread acceptance of cannabis use.
For travelers who do the proper research, marijuana tourism can add a new element of excitement to their next domestic and international vacation.
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