As summer approaches, the public can’t wait to start traveling again – but licensed cannabis tourism remains in limbo in Colorado as Denver and other local governments reassess their social cannabis laws. Meanwhile, other areas are moving forward.
According to Brian Applegarth, founder of the Cannabis Travel Association International, cities in California and Europe are currently leading the cannabis hospitality movement. But their lead is not insurmountable, he says, explaining that other cities could catch up as their tourism industries accept that the use of the pot is not going away. As this comes to fruition, the CTAI is launching a chapter system, with Denver on the shortlist.
We caught up with Applegarth to learn more about CTAI’s plans and the future of cannabis travel.
Westword: What prompted the decision to expand beyond California when cannabis travel and hospitality is still so young?
Brian Applegarth: In 2017, a colleague encouraged me to start an association, and I eventually founded the California Cannabis Tourism Association. [later rebranded as the Cannabis Travel Association International]. It was dedicated to California, and our goal was to lead and champion safe and responsible cannabis tourism in a regulatory environment. I knew there would be a lot of work to be done to bridge the gap between the cannabis and travel industries. What we learned in three years was that people from outside California and the country contacted us on several occasions. It became evident that we could serve a higher purpose and a larger geographic footprint.
What about states like Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for some time now but hospitality and tourism still go unrecognized?
Colorado, in particular, is definitely an area where we want to develop a regional chapter. I do not know of an association or organization currently dedicated to the discussion of Colorado travel. I know consumer laws have been complex and suspended, but I believe there has been great progress in this area. I recently spoke with Chris Chiari [owner of the Patterson Inn], and we know there is movement in Denver. As an association, we believe that traveling with safe and responsible cannabis means very safe and unobstructed areas and ways for visitors to consume – means that do not break the law and are in a controlled space with tested products and knowledgeable staff, especially when you have untrained visitors to the area.
Which state or region is currently at the forefront of social cannabis use and hospitality?
San Francisco is truly a leader in this area. I don’t know how many lounges there are there, maybe about 15, but there are a lot – and it’s true to the shape of San Francisco. You also have Palm Springs and that larger area including the Coachella Valley. There are a few active cannabis fairs in this region. West Hollywood and Mendocino County too. There are a handful of great tasting rooms in Mendocino County.
Outside of California, Amsterdam and Barcelona are the other two places that are really doing something. But even Barcelona is this very quasi-legal private club model, and if you look at the Amsterdam model, it’s sort of quasi-legal too. If you look at it from a compliance perspective, I still think California is leading the way. You also have things to learn from international sites. Barcelona are coming very strong and we’ll see how they move on from this private club model.
As cannabis tourism grows, do you see pot-based entrepreneurs and businesses leading this charge? Or will it come from more established travel agencies adopting cannabis as a new branch?
It’s both. These are the innovators who are taking hemp and cannabis and really starting to show how unique it is. Just look at the ingestion methods, which is a hurdle we are discussing. Overcome the word “consumption” and make sure the laws understand the difference between inhaling and not inhaling. They are so much different than just drinking wine, and that is important when it comes to traveling. Explaining all of these different options – the dosage scale, high CBD products, as well as state laws – are aspects of this arc we’re trying to talk about.
But it will be both. It is these innovators and travel industry professionals who are well established and good at adopting. It all comes down to partnerships, and travel is an ecosystem of hotels, destination marketing, car rental companies, attractions, and restaurants. They all need to work together to take a standardized approach to including cannabis and hemp in a destination.
In a perfect world, what do you think of the social regulation of social cannabis use?
There is what I would like to see and what my prediction is. I believe cannabis is inherently a wellness and wellness tool, whether it’s a high dose massage or a CBD massage. Cannabis is a tool that we must understand how to use in order to improve the quality of life, which includes reducing stress and achieving state of flux. The original premise of cannabis in ancient China was all about the properties of yin and yang, and this goes directly into homeostasis, balance, and the endocannabinoid system. All the principles of cannabis point to balance and quality of life, so now it’s a question of educating mainstream travelers on how to use cannabis to do so.
I think there will be several different seasons to this. As corporate cannabis grows strong, ensuring that all of these principles and depth of knowledge don’t get lost in the spirit of competition and growth will be a challenge. Travel must be accessible, standardized and anchored education and risk mitigation, such as teaching people about microdosing and setting expectations, and communicating the importance of what they are taking and why. We need to be intentional with what we consume and know why we are using it.
Anyone on a cannabis-related trip has a responsibility to promote the safety of visitors at the destination. It also extends to a staff, and it doesn’t just concern visitors. I saw a case where a hotel maid ate a [THC] chocolate next to the bed, not knowing what it was. So my question is, how do you educate your staff on this? There is still a lot of work to be done, and it is reflected.
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