Modeled after the BC Ale Trail, the project will be piloted in the Kootenays and on Vancouver Island
by Timothy Shaffer
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily
A provincial pilot project is being launched to build a British Columbia cannabis tourism trail with legs in each of the southern corners.
Selkirk Innovates and the Craft Cannabis Association of BC (CCABC) have applied for funding — under REDIP’s economic diversification stream — to complete the project to focus cannabis tourism in two key and historic areas: the Kootenays and the Cowichan Valley.
Entitled Building the BC Cannabis Trail, the aim of the pilot project is to build the foundation for a cannabis tourism trail in both regions, modeled after the successful BC Ale Trail, which can then be expanded to other regions of BC
“Given BC’s relatively new legal cannabis economy and the ongoing complexities surrounding cannabis marketing and branding policies, the Cowichan Valley and Kootenay regions have yet to formalize cannabis tourism,” wrote Tracy Harvey and Sarah Campbell of Selkirk Innovates in a letter outlining the project.
“However, the rich culture, historical significance and continued evolution of regional cannabis economies in these regions position them as ideal candidates for an inter-regional cannabis tourism pilot project: Building the British Columbia Cannabis Trail.”
For decades before the legalization of recreational cannabis in 2018, the Kootenay region and the Cowichan Valley of British Columbia were home to cannabis sectors.
“The integral culture and economy of cannabis in these regions have created rich historical connections with cannabis,” Harvey notes in his letter.
There are currently about 30 legal cannabis businesses — including growers, processors, nurseries, labs and retail outlets — in the two regions, giving each area enough “sustainable cannabis clusters.”
Legalization has also created a climate for economic diversification and tourism development, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as British travelers, Germans, Americans and non-BC residents increasingly travel to the province, Campbell wrote.
“Cannabis tourism is seen as a catalyst for economic recovery in Canada’s tourism sector (Canadian Cannabis Tourism Alliance n.d.) and is particularly important in helping negatively impacted economies recover from the devastating 2023 wildfire season (Destination BC 2023a) and the recent decline in the forest industry,” she stated.
Risks of cannabis tourism
There are many perceived risks associated with the establishment of cannabis tourism, including how cannabis is perceived and treated at all levels of government, through policies and by various organizations.
Also, at the ground level there is a varied reaction and perception of community residents when cannabis tourism is introduced and how the industry can be accepted while advertising for sales.
The rural nature of the industry can also be considered a risk factor.
“Sufficient digital access is needed to improve the quality and safety of tourism experiences,” notes the report, Exploring Cannabis Tourism Opportunities in the Kootenay Rockies, released earlier this year by Selkirk Innovates and the Tourism Association of Kootenay Rocky Mountains. “Many farms are in remote locations, creating barriers to entry for cannabis tourism operators due to connectivity challenges.”
If the industry proves successful, it could spawn an amenity migration led by “green fever,” further compounding housing issues in many Kootenay communities, including availability and affordability due to the influx of people.
Globally, indoor cannabis cultivation and the tourism industry contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, “posing a threat to environmentally sustainable economic development,” the report explained.
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