San Benito County is among the lowest earning tourist destinations in the state. According to visitcalifornia.com, "Total direct travel spending in California was $126.3 billion in 2016, a 3.1 percent increase from 2015." San Benito County's share of that market in 2015 was $27 million which earned local government $7 million dollars in tax revenue.
How do we encourage local leaders to better promote tourism in general and the budding cannabis tourism industry specifically? I don't have all the answers, but I have a few ideas worth consideration.
California's Prop. 64 laws — also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana act — will go into effect in 2018. According to the Ballot Pedia website: "Proposition 64 legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 years or older, permitting smoking in a private home or at a business licensed for on-site marijuana consumption. Smoking will remain illegal while driving a vehicle, anywhere smoking tobacco is, and in all public places. Up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana are legal to possess under this measure. However, possession on the grounds of a school, day care center, or youth center while children are present remains illegal. An individual is permitted to grow up to six plants within a private home as long as the area is locked and not visible from a public place."
The cannabis tourism industry is already ramping up with a few travel companies offering guided tours to cannabis facilities and operations in Northern California. For example, one company called Sea of Green Tours and Events offers a variety of guided tours to cannabis facilities from several hours in duration at cannabis businesses to several days touring the so-called Emerald Triangle region of the state. The Emerald Triangle refers to a region in Northern California which is named due to it being the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States. Mendocino County, Humboldt County, and Trinity County are the three counties in Northern California that make up this region.
According to its website, Sea of Green Tours and Events offers guided tours such as this:
- Explore: Urban Immersion
- 4-6 Hours. Starting at $149. Board our Comfortable Sprinter or party bus and discover the Bay Area Cannabis Scene: the products, the people, the places and the history. You'll visit pioneering dispensaries, Oaksterdam University, and a glass shop, participate in a cannabis sensory evaluation (like wine tasting for weed), and learn about, and see, the people and places that have helped to make a once illicit crop into a Green Rush that is bringing wellness to millions while also helping to power the economy from seed-to-consumption.
San Benito County has vastly superior weather than the Emerald Triangle region of the state. Prospective tourists visiting California would much prefer the warm weather of Hollister with its proximity to The Pinnacles National Park, Monterey, Silicon Valley and San Francisco; all those destinations are within a one- to two-hour drive of the Hollister Airport which at present can accommodate 737-sized commercial airlines with a few improvements to its infrastructure.
MarketWatch, a financial information website that provides business news, analysis and stock market data reports that: "travel site searches for Denver vacations increased nearly 75 percent in the year after the state legalized the recreational use of marijuana." Washington and Oregon saw similar search increases after adult use cannabis laws were legalized in those respective states as well."
Of course, encouraging the cannabis tourism industry to do business in San Benito County will require a great deal of planning and investment. One major player in the international travel and hospitality industry could be a virtual single source to cultivate a local cannabis tourism industry. The Virgin Group, under the leadership of billionaire Richard Branson who reportedly indulges in cannabis on occasion, could invest tens of millions of dollars improving the Hollister Airport, negotiate Virgin Airline operations, build restaurants, hotels and performing arts venues to attract tourists from all over the world to visit San Benito County and improve its relatively impoverished hospitality industry.
Doing so would create hundreds or thousands of jobs, positively impact the local economy and boost tax revenue to local governments.
In my opinion, San Benito County's cannabis tourism industry isn't just a pipe dream. The potential market and flourishing cannabis hospitality industry will become one of the best investment opportunities for the future of San Benito County in the 21st Century attracting tourists from all over the world. But it will require astute leadership and an unbiased agenda from elected leaders willing to regard the cannabis industry in the same light as the regulated wine and spirits industries doing business in our community.