On Jan. 1, 2018 the possession, growing and sale of cannabis, or marijuana¹ became legal in California, although there is some latitude for local officials in establishing points of sale and locations of cannabis dispensaries.
But little thought seems to have been given to the role of local governments or their tourism promotion organizations in affording cannabis a role in that promotion. This became evident last week during a meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors when Tony Smithers, executive director of the Humboldt County CVB, delivered his annual presentation to supervisors.
Overall, it was a very good year for the Humboldt County tourism product—located about 280 miles north of San Francisco along the Pacific Ocean, the county is famous for its redwood forests and stunning vistas,, which no doubt helped it earn Lonely Planet’s designation as the best travel destination in the United States. Richard Stenger, media and marketing director for the bureau, said that this designation alone was worth a billion impressions online from around the world.
Still, in a thoroughly written report on the session by Thadeus Greenson of the North Coast Journal of Politics, People and Art, in its presentation the bureau overlooked the potential of cannabis-based tourism to attract more visitors to the county.
Smithers indicated it is, but not immediately, according to the Journal’s account. He indicated that, with the Redwood National Park celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, “it’s the year of the redwoods,” meaning that there were no plans plans to market Humboldt County as a cannabis tourism destination. The bureau’s focus is a mix of “destination marketing” and “destination management,” he added, noting that the cannabis industry has some “endemic problems” and needs to become “part of the solution.”
Meanwhile, Terra Carver, executive director of the Humboldt Cannabis Growers Alliance, said that while her organization supports the bureau’s efforts she was “very concerned with the lack of cannabis” in its plans. The board, she said, passed a landmark cannabis land use ordinance four years ago and has continued to be on the forefront of regulating the industry, most recently with the consideration of an ordinance that would allow farm-based retail sales, farm stays and tours.
“Why would an organization, after four years, not have a plan to incorporate cannabis into their strategy?” she asked. “Just imagine if Napa didn’t market wine.”
Chuck Leishman, the Journal‘s general manager and publisher of its Insider tourism magazine, warned the board that he sees Humboldt County in danger of entering a “severe recession” as it transitions out of an “underground” cannabis economy. The county has national brand recognition when it comes to cannabis, Leishman said, and marketing that to potential tourists would help strengthen the local economy.
Mariellen Jurkovich, owner of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center—it operates a dispensary in the county and is working toward getting one permitted in Eureka—told the board she’d like to see someone from the cannabis industry on the bureau’s 21-member board of directors. She said she sees the bureau marketing “wine-and-dine” opportunities in Humboldt and wonders why cannabis wouldn’t fit into that approach.
Supervisor Estelle Fennell made the point that, underground or regulated, the local cannabis industry is already putting heads in beds, noting that when Napa County markets the wine industry it showcases people imbibing in a “beautiful environment,” adding, “We’ve got both.”
While there was no indication that the CVB was prepared to change its plans in the near-term future, it seemed clear from the article that cannabis tourism advocates had made their point.
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¹ Cannabis is used in three main forms: marijuana, hashish and hash oil. Marijuana is made from dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It is the least potent of all the cannabis products and is usually smoked or made into edible products like cookies or brownies. Learn more in this brief article from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington: http://learnaboutmarijuanawa.org/factsheets/whatiscannabis.htm