States that have legalized cannabis are in the double digits, all of Canada recently climbed aboard, and investors are obsessed with green stocks, so you might be thinking that it’s a perfect time to start offering cannabis-related tours. Before you upend your life to join this bustling market, though, there are a few major issues to go over with a lawyer.
1. Is it legal at all?
Cannabis is still illegal in most of the world, including the United States. While many states have legalized the drug’s use, it’s not legal federally. Because of that, many cannabis tourism companies won’t provide the drug or endorse its consumption during a tour–even though they’re in states where it’s otherwise legal.
Legality comes in a few different shades, most of which aren’t helpful for a would-be cannabis tour operator.
Decriminalized: In states and countries where cannabis is decriminalized, people who possess it may still face civil penalties. Sales and cultivation are often still illegal. In some countries like Spain and Netherlands, selling is allowed by specific licensed businesses or cooperative clubs but is otherwise prohibited.
Legal for medical use: Cannabis is widely used as a legitimate medical treatment for a number of serious health issues, like seizure disorders, nausea from cancer treatments and symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Generally, medical marijuana is heavily regulated, requiring prescriptions from doctors, registration in federal programs, or other official requirements. While grey market dispensaries may serve people that don’t meet those requirements, these aren’t part of legal recreational industry that a tourism business could enjoy.
Legal for recreational use: Once cannabis is legal for recreational use in an area, creative tourism entrepreneurs get to work–carefully. Legal cannabis always comes with caveats, none of which a tour provider wants to be surprised by. Consulting a lawyer is an absolute must in this market.
2. Who can legally provide it?
Even in places where you can buy cannabis legally, not all cannabis is actually legal. Often, the onus is on the consumer (and by extension, the tour provider) to ensure that anything they buy comes from a legal source.
Generally, you won’t be legally able to source cannabis products for your guests. If you plan to have purchasing or consumption involved in your tours, you’ll need to find a third party who can.
Licensed retail businesses: Many areas require businesses to meet certain regulatory standards and be licensed before they can sell cannabis. Since legal cannabis is still new in many places, finding legal business can be a minefield. For example, in Vancouver, Canada, legalization has seen grey market dispensaries raided and shut down at the same time legal dispensaries are opening up. In situations like that, your guests would need you to be well-informed about the differences.
Cannabis clubs: In Spain, cannabis can be legal within the confines of members-only clubs, intended to be restrictive cooperatives that cultivate their own product. Clubs that relax their standards and cater too openly to tourists may end up in violation of the law.
Coffeeshops:Amsterdam has carried the reputation of being a haven for cannabis users, but sales are actually tightly prohibited in Netherlands. Only specific, licensed coffeeshops can sell cannabis products, and there are limits to where and how much they can sell.
3. What can they legally provide?
Cannabis comes in many forms, and some governments have decided to restrict which forms are available.
For example, Louisiana’s medical marijuana legislation prohibits forms that are smoked, so medical consumers will use products like oils and topical creams. In Canada, where recreational use was recently legalized, edible products containing cannabis are prohibited until the government creates a regulatory framework for them.
Most places with legal cannabis also put tight restrictions on how much can be sold and how much anyone can possess.
4. Where can it legally be consumed?
If you want to allow cannabis consumption on or after your tours, you’ll face one more major hurdle: location. Consumption is generally just as tightly controlled as sales are, so you’ll need to tread carefully if you want to give your guests a place to get high.
- Are you envisioning a rollicking party bus? Consumption in motor vehicles is illegal in many places, even if the driver is in a separate cabin.
- Public consumption is often banned entirely. In 2018, Denver police stopped a tour bus and cited everyone on board for consuming marijuana in public.
- Parks and other places children gather may be restricted even when public consumption is allowed.
- Indoor consumption may be restricted to lounges or subject to the same laws as tobacco. Also, property owners may be allowed to set their own restrictions on top of any legal ones.
- Even private homes may be off limits. Landlords and strata corporations can restrict who can have cannabis at their residential properties in some areas.
5. Will payment providers allow it?
For businesses that are new to the cannabis business, finding a payment provider can be a matter of some concern. There’s good news on this front, though. In addition to a number of payment providers that specifically cater to what they term Marijuana-Related Businesses (MRB), some traditional payment providers are beginning to accept MRBs, too. As legalization becomes more common, finding service providers should only get easier, but federal prohibition may remain a barrier in the United States.
Start low, go slow
This isn’t an exhaustive look at the laws and regulations you might need to navigate if you decide to take up cannabis tourism–for that, you’ll need a lawyer with experience in the subject. With cannabis only recently legalized in many areas, regulations are still evolving. Ongoing legal advice might be a good idea.
If it seems like a lot already, don’t despair. As time passes and regulations get streamlined, the legal landscape should get easier to navigate. It’s best to take a measured approach when you’re concerned about legality. Know your limits, and don’t get too caught up in the hype. Cannabis tourism is still a market with plenty of room to grow.