How Legal Marijuana Affects the Tourism Industry

How Legal Marijuana Affects the Tourism Industry

Yes we(ed) can
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For my final essay in one of my classes, we were allowed to pick any subject in relation to tourism. I decided to base my research project on this question: How does the legalization of Marijuana influence travel to Amsterdam? And what does the future hold for the United States as they follow in Amsterdam’s footsteps? I found my findings very interesting which is why I've decided to share it.

Here it goes:

Tourism is a phenomenon present in various aspects of everyday life. Many themes of tourism continue to develop different types of travel. This includes cognitive, moral, aesthetic, vital, utilitarian, technological, economic, religious and even patriotic reasons to vacation.

Defining and understanding all of the different forms of a modern traveler is often the focus of studies in regards to tourism today. More recently, there has been an increase in the interest of drug tourism, the act of traveling to an area based on the ability to buy and ingest drugs. This is otherwise known as Narco-tourism. The phenomenon of drug tourism is a newly reviewed aspect of the travel industry (Hoffman, 2014).

Today, there are twenty-nine out of all fifty states that have legalized medical cannabis (Evans, 2013). Even though areas such as Colorado seem to be ahead of the game, one flourishing city in the Netherlands started it first: Amsterdam. The Dutch are famous for how tolerable they are, in turn, over thirty percent of Amsterdam are tourists.

The capital of the Netherlands is known for its artistic heritage, unique canal system, and abundant legacies left by people such as Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank. However, the small yet eclectic city found another niche in the 1980s, the marijuana industry. Because the city allows visitors to explore in ways other countries permit, a new type of tourism has arisen: deviant tourism or, as stated above, narco-tourism.

Tourism, in general, is a complex industry by nature. Compared to the old forms of travel, more modern versions are commonly associated with the transformation of someone’s everyday life. “People are more likely to accept cannabis as a tourist attraction or amenity that they can experience during vacation, rather than a marginalized tourist interest or a mere extension of their daily habit."

Marijuana has made its way to Amsterdam by American soldiers during World War II. In 1970, the city became a hotbed for crime and drug activity. The country tried to resolve the issue by passing the Opium act in 1979 where a distinction between soft and hard drugs was made. After 1980, a system of coffee shops began to evolve across the Netherlands. Marijuana was allowed to be distributed as long as these cafes were licensed. A third party is in charge of distributing the crop to the coffee shops with a don’t ask don’t tell policy.

Although smoking and ingesting the drug is not exactly legal, the act is not forbidden and is ultimately tolerated. Since the passing of the Opium act, crime and drug activity shrunk drastically. Therefore, in the 1990s, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy followed and shifted their drug policy to mimic that of the Netherlands.

In 2001 and 2004, Portugal and Europe followed foot. Due to these laws, each year Amsterdam is visited by about one and a half million narco-tourists. These tourists represent one-third of all people visiting the city. “As the results of previous studies, the majority of drug tourists there is a high level of awareness about the availability of drugs within the place visited”

In a country where only a fraction of the states has legalized the drug, it is natural for people to seek alternative ways to vacation. “A few reasons why people choose to travel towards legal marijuana states is the loosening of social control, the leisure behavioral continuum, shaping and manifestation of social identity, and smuggling as a deviant career” Although research on drug tourism is rare, it is evident to see trends increasing the more states begin to swing towards the left side.

When thinking about the effects marijuana has on tourism in Amsterdam, it is important to compare against the United States and the up and coming cities that have passed similar laws. Legal marijuana is a multi-billion-dollar industry and continuously growing. Smoking pot becomes more common every day in America as it becomes more accepted.

Because Colorado is the first state to adopt legalization of the drug, it has now turned into a center of massive marijuana tourism growth. Hence, marijuana tourists are seen as a new niche market for Colorado. "Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, cannabis has been considered to be a top tourist draw in Colorado.

It is indisputable that the marijuana market has changed the landscape of the tourism and hospitality industry in Colorado and will be a vital consumption commodity…with legalization, marijuana consumers could be viewed as a connoisseur consumer tourists traveled to search for a uniquely profound experience.”

By opening the opportunity of “experimentation, pleasure and diversion‐seeking, quest for authenticity, and accessible purchasing, people get a different kind of travel experience” This is what makes states such as Colorado appealing to certain travelers. As the marijuana industry continues to grow, Colorado will create separate packages that cater to individual markets. Businesses are beginning to open that is rather unusual. For example, vending machines are hitting the market, bud and breakfasts and so much more.

“Colorado’s experience suggests starting a legal cannabis industry is one of the most efficient ways to generate new economic activity.” There have been positive changes in Washington, DC as well. Arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution of cannabis have plummeted since the legalization of the drug.

This has saved jurisdiction millions of dollars. In turn, preventing the criminalization of thousands of people. Almost half of all marijuana arrests dropped in Colorado, and ninety-eight percent have shrunk in the state of Washington. Alaska, Oregon, and DC show similar results. More recently, other cities are beginning to fall in line with the success of legalizing soft drugs.

A study was done to demonstrate the similarities between San Francisco and Amsterdam. San Francisco was chosen due to the comparable nature of the two cities. Both are highly urbanized port cities with a diverse population (Reinarman, 2004). Furthermore, they are ”financial and entertainment hubs for larger regional conurbations and they have long been perceived within their home countries as cosmopolitan, politically liberal, and culturally tolerant...as people’s view is moving more toward recreational activity, this phenomenon will generate more visitors traveling specifically for marijuana as a recreational amenity.”

Although it seems that these cities seem to have it all figured out on the drug front, there are still some changes that could be made to benefit the economy and tourism industry as a whole. Every area that has legalized cannabis in some form should create a more transparent system when it comes to the buying and selling of their drugs.

Buyers want to know what they are getting and where it is from. Some fear that ingesting a drug without knowledge of the background can have potential health risks. If people are unaware of what goes into their product, they will be less inclined to partake. In Amsterdam, being that city is thirty percent tourists, by creating a more transparent system, outsiders will feel more safe and willing to experience.

There are only about one hundred and seventy-five coffee shops that still stand in Amsterdam, about half of what existed in the nineties. By creating a fully transparent system, quality will become better, and the price will not be as high. Given the concept of supply and demand, this will drive demand to skyrocket.

This will bring even more tourists to create a more safe and comfortable environment for those not well acquainted with the city. This will also drive up medical tourism in the area. Patients will know what they are ingesting, which is essential when traveling for medical reasons.

In Maine, legalization would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic activity in a state that “ranks near the bottom of the nation in total economic output.” It is clear to see the economic benefits that come along with legalizing cannabis.

With these benefits in mind, it is important to understand that with a richer economy, tourism is bound to increase. People are more likely to travel to areas that are financially stable and cater to their specific needs. Those who smoke recreationally or medically will be inclined to travel to areas that promote the act of smoking and ingesting pot.

It is evident that, by legally regulating the sale and use of cannabis, people can experience more responsibly and safely. This benefits the citizens and the government as a whole. Marijuana advocates claim that marijuana taxation, licensing, and industry could generate almost nine billion dollars in government revenue by the year 2020. Pot is a stronger economic driver than ninety perfect of sectors active in Colorado.

“Legal weed created 18,005 full-time jobs and added about $2.4 billion to the state’s economy last year (Evans, 2013).” In Arizona, pot is taxed fifteen percent and would likely generate over one hundred and ten million dollars in revenue between the years 2019 and 2020. These facts back up the idea that “the direct economic benefits of legalizing marijuana outweigh the costs.

In conclusion, drug tourism is an apparent niche that continues to grow in popularity as the legality of marijuana becomes more widely accepted by the masses. People choose to travel for many reasons. Whether that be for leisure, work, or medical purposes, everyone has different desires that spark them travel.

The thrill-seekers and curious humans of the world are interested in freely consuming a substance without the fear of negative repercussions. By traveling to an area where the drug is not restricted, people will feel more at peace and able to experience more deeply.

Those who aren’t afraid to break the law may want to travel just to feel what it’s like to not be breaking the rules. “Legalization has changed and expanded how marijuana consumption is viewed in the tourism discipline, which may create the paradigm shift from viewing marijuana as a forbidden fruit to the goose that lays golden eggs” More knowledge will continue to evolve as Narco-tourism thrives as a special interest segment in the travel industry.

Cover Image Credit: Michael Fischer

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As mentioned before in my "8 Ways You Know You're Portuguese" article, I'm 100% European Portuguese. Which means that if you're reading this, you're probably somehow related to me (see #5). You know these 12 things to be true if you grew up in a Portuguese household:

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Cover Image Credit: CDMPHY / Flickr

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Statue of DavidBrooke Burney

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