Caribbean Tourism Officials Talk Marijuana Tourism

Written by Red Carpet Shelley. Posted in Caribbean News, Tourism

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Published on September 24, 2014 with No Comments

PHOTO: “Jamaica’s tourism market was created because of marijuana,” said U.S. Virgin Islands legislator Terrence Nelson. (Photo by Brian Major)

PHOTO: “Jamaica’s tourism market was created because of marijuana,” said U.S. Virgin Islands legislator Terrence Nelson. (Photo by Brian Major)

With United States marijuana tourism blossoming, Caribbean officials are slowly addressing what has long been an open secret: many U.S. travelers visit the islands with the expectation of smoking “ganja.”

At last week’s “State of the Industry” conference in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) officials issued their first documented comments on Caribbean marijuana tourism. “It is entirely up to destinations within and outside of the Caribbean to determine whether they want to use marijuana as a magnet to draw tourists,” said Hugh Riley, CTO’s secretary general. “It is a factor, we have to discuss it, and we are going to study it further.”

The issue wafted to the forefront earlier this year when parliament members in Jamaica, likely eyeing developments in the United States, their largest tourist source market, placed marijuana decriminalization on the agenda for discussion.

Phillip Paulwell, a member of Jamaica’s parliament, said at the time he believes “decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this year.” Mark Golding, Jamaica’s minister of justice, confirmed that Jamaica’s government “will be reviewing the matter in light of the recent developments in this hemisphere.”

Although it remains illegal in Jamaica, marijuana is easily available in areas frequented by vacationers. An underground tourist-driven marijuana economy already operates across the island. Similar situations exist in other Caribbean destinations. Yet despite its international image as a laid-back place, Jamaica is a conservative nation where many do not appreciate the country’s ganja-loving reputation.

And while the CTO did launch a marijuana tourism discussion as part of the conference’s panel on medical tourism, officials are not making recommendations just yet.

“There are states of the U. S., our biggest market, that are marijuana tourism states,” said Riley. “They are quantifying with great pride the amount of income they get from people coming to their states because of the situation.

“But we are not setting any national policies here. We are simply providing information for our constituents.” – Hugh Riley, secretary general, Caribbean Tourism Organization

“There is some learning that our member countries can do in that regard,” continued Riley. “But we are not setting any national policies here. We are simply providing information for our constituents.”

CTO officials did offer a medically focused review of marijuana use from Dr. C. James Hospedales of the Caribbean Public Health Agency. In a video address to conference delegates, Hospedales advised destinations to “Proceed with an abundance of caution, given the significant adverse effects of cannabis smoking on health and social and occupational functioning.

“Public health and scientific studies clearly demonstrate significant adverse effects of cannabis smoking on physical and mental health,” he said. “As decriminalization is considered, I must draw attention to some of the significant neurological, cognitive, behavioral, and physical consequences of short- and long-term marijuana use.

Nelson said marijuana tourism proceeds could go to a “superfund” to finance infrastructure improvements including “utilities like electric, water, Internet and hospitals and healthcare facilities. You can help each island nation to develop. That will help us to heal our economies,” he said.

Marijuana marketing could also be a key element of a travel marketing strategy built around health and well-being, said Nelson. “God has granted us a lot of natural amenities to be a place for wellness,” he said.

Nelson ridiculed Hospedales’ marijuana-use scenario, saying “Of all the statements he made, many can be contested. Research can prove it. We have Rasta men in every country; you don’t see them running around and being schizophrenic and crazy. Jamaica’s tourism market was created because of marijuana and the Rasta man because people fly into Jamaica to see where this thing comes from.”

A handful of other Caribbean leaders have called for discussion on marijuana decriminalization, including Kamla Persad-Bissessar, prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago, and Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Last year Michael Dunkley, Bermuda’s public safety minister, promised a “mature, public discussion on decriminalization” although that has yet to occur.

SOURCE:  Travel Pulse

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