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Ontario's pot plan could see tourism boom go up in smoke, locals warn

Toronto could be a boom-town for cannabis tourism, but industry figures fear regulations might turn visitors off

Smoking marijuana on a cannabis bus tour in Denver.

Jeff Rotman / Getty Images

Smoking marijuana on a cannabis bus tour in Denver.

As Ontario awaits recreational cannabis legalization, industry figures are warning that unless regulations are loosened, Toronto could lose out on a mini tourism boom.

Abi Roach of Toronto’s Hotbox Café, where visitors have brought their own cannabis since 2003, says some 40 to 50 per cent of her 100,000 yearly visits are from people based outside of Toronto or Canada.

She knows, though, that as unapproved dispensaries are shuttered, places like hers where cannabis can be consumed on a back patio or vaporized indoors are also in the province’s crosshairs.

“Canada is already renowned for its cannabis and renowned for its relaxed atmosphere around it,” she said. “If they decide not to embrace it, if they clamp down, we’ll lose that tourism market that already exists.”

With pot set to be available only in stores run by the LCBO, and illegal to smoke outside the home, Roach said the city risks losing out on a growth market. She's already in talks with operators keen to combine pot tours with her lounge.

In Denver, Colo., companies like My 420 Tours have thrived, offerings trips like “Sushi, Sake and Joint Rolling.” Yet the takeoff hasn't been smooth; long after legalization, a deep divide has formed regarding rules on social consumption spaces.

“If we’re not allowed to exist within the framework, that same tourist is going to be pushed out into the street from their hotel room,” Roach said. With so many Torontonians renting, she added, smoking at home often won’t be an option. Cannabis smokers would have fewer options than tobacco smokers.

Matt Cronin of Canada High Tours said his vision for pot tourism is in its infancy but “ready to go” as soon as Ontario’s plans firm up. He’s hawking tours on Facebook, with a website launch planned for the new year.

Cronin, based in the U.K., and Nic Manko, his Regina-based brother-in-law, see relatively cheap flights from Europe as a gateway to Toronto for cannabis enthusiasts.

“The road in and out of Amsterdam is quite trodden, quite tired,” he said. “People are looking for something different, and a weekend in Toronto won’t break the bank.”

Tours might include visits to a dispensary,a trip to a cannabis lounge or a bike tour of the city. Actually smoking the pot, though, would remain an issue.

“There are millions of tourists that come to Toronto each year,” Roach said. “That’s a lot of people with nowhere to consume their legal cannabis.”

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