When Colorado allowed people from outside of the state to come and purchase cannabis legally, it felt like a tidal wave was happening. The cannabis industry and business owners were caught surprised at how many people took an interest in the state, planning not only their vacations but also businesses. Speaking about the changes brought forth by this move in 2014 by the State, Tony Frischknecht invites to the show Susan Dupej, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Guelph whose research interest focuses on the impact of cannabis legalization on the tourism industry. Here, Susan lets us in on how she is going about her study on how social responsibility can be used as a framework for forming best practices for suppliers. Join in on this eye-opening conversation that marries academia to the realities of everyday people and how the cannabis and tourism industries impact each other.
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The Impact Of Cannabis Legalization On Tourism With Susan Dupej
Before I get started with our next guest, I’d like to talk a little bit about something. Back in 2012 here in Colorado, we saw some interesting things happen when legalization was passed. What had happened is the State allowed people in Colorado for the next year to purchase cannabis legally but it was only until 2014 when out-of-staters can come and purchase. As business owners, we’re extremely surprised at that time. It shocked all of us that had been in the industry for several years prior. We were a little bit unnerving. We were like, “Are people going to hate our state? Are they going to love our state? What’s going to be happening over the next year as we build up to legalization especially out-of-state visitors?”
We heard a lot of discussions and we started hearing more people talking about having their promotions, their business plans we’re taking them into the state, which was funny. We started hearing about people wanting to take their vacations here. People starting to, “I want to check out Colorado. They’re doing some cool things there.” 2014 hit and a tidal wave were happening once people saw it a year prior, all of us, Colorado and standing in line and waiting for cannabis to be sold legally to them, I think that’s sparked some huge interest across the country. That’s why I have my next guest, her name is Susan Dupej and she lives in Ontario, Canada. She’s doing some interesting stuff. She has a PhD in Philosophy, Master of Arts, Communication and Culture, Bachelor of Environmental Studies Geography and Tourism. Susan, thank you for being on the show. How are you doing?
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I haven’t had any researchers on yet this is a new area for me. I’m here to learn as much as I can, but I do also want to give the audience some different things to think about. In Canada, it’s legal everywhere, but as it wipes across each part of our States here in the US, people are experiencing different things. The first question I’d to ask is, what is your research focus on and how will it help our audiences?
My research is on Cannabis Tourism specifically in Canada. My primary research objective is to understand how social responsibility can be used as a framework for forming best practices, for tourism suppliers in Canada. The plan was this summer and next summer as well. Things have changed a little bit because of COVID but nonetheless, the research goes on. The plan is to interview providers of, Cannabis tourism products and that can include a range of businesses. There are tour companies. This is something that has come up in the States and Colorado. There are tour companies. There are also accommodations, Airbnbs, that allow for consumption on-premises consumption on properties. You can also go camping. There are recreational activities that are popping up as well. The list goes on and on.
What I want to know is, how are these suppliers of these tourism experiences of these tourism products going to keep their visitors safe when they come to Canada? They purchase from the business with the intention of consuming cannabis. This is what my research, largely revolves around. The end goal is to come up with a report where I can put all of my findings together, and deliver that to the industry so that there can be some form of consistency, some form of accountability when it comes to running these types of businesses that largely revolve around the ability for people to consume cannabis.
Who have you spoken with at this point? Are we at the beginning of your journey or are we halfway through the journey of researching?
I have been doing research informally for the past couple of years. Since 2018, I jumped in and started to introduce myself to people who were in the industry already and tell them what I was doing. I wanted to research what they were doing. Although I have been interested in it for a long time and following things for a long time, it wasn’t until this year, 2020 that I was awarded a research grant, to start official research on what I had explained to you about the social responsibility and best practices. I am at the beginning stages of official research. Ethics is still in process but once I have my ethics review accepted, then I plan on going and talking with people involved in the industry. I’ve informally spoken with all kinds of people.
People who are in marketing and run tours. I’ve gone on several tours. There’s an attraction here in Ontario that is a resort and it is cannabis-friendly. I’ve spoken with him and about some of the things that he’s had to think about in adopting this policy. I’ve also talked to the owner of Hotbox Cafe, which is a popular tourist attraction. It’s iconic in Kensington Market in Toronto. That brings in lounges into the conversation as well. It’s something I haven’t mentioned. There’s a town. Smiths Falls is looking to be a leader in cannabis tourism, the cannabis capital of Canada if you will.
Cannabis tourism is officially part of their economic development strategy. I’ve spoken with the town the mayor. There’s a visitor’s facility in Smiths Falls and this is a visitor’s facility that’s offered by Tweed, and I’m sure many of your audiences know that Tweed is a large licensed producer, not only in Canada but worldwide. They have a headquarters in Smiths Falls and it is leveraging their presence to incorporate economic development of the town. There are all kinds of people who are getting into it that I’ve spoken with informally far.
As you’re talking to them informally, what is their reaction when you tell them the grant that you received and what your goal is and what you’re working on. How do they react to that?
They act in the same way that I tell anybody of what I’m doing and that is that people are usually taken aback. They are surprised and they say to me, “That’s a thing?” I’m trying to make it a thing along with a bunch of other researchers and scholars, both in the Canadian and American contexts and also in Europe as well as European and Asian scholars. They are happy to hear it because from what I can gather, there is little advice. There is little guidance that is available to people who want to start businesses related to cannabis tourism. The information is just not available. I am wanting to bring the government on board here and to emphasize the importance of having these rules and regulations and policies in place because people have to be kept safe when they come to Canada for these reasons.
It’s tough for people that aren’t around Cannabis all the time to understand where the regulators are coming from. The government has certain duties to protect its society of people. Our big tourism draw is skiing. I didn’t realize it, but there’s a big difference between safety people walking around, purchasing down in the city, and safety on the mountain. It affects people in different ways and they have to worry about insurance issues especially in the US. There are a lot of lawsuits and stuff like that. I can imagine your research is going to take you down some different tunnels like that to where it’s like, “We didn’t even think about this,” because it’s also new to us. We haven’t grown through it. Providing that clarity sounds you’re going to be saying, “Here’s A, B, C, and D. We’ve got a bunch of options for you to choose from?” How they do that. How can they take advantage of this?Dissemination is a huge part of the research process. Click To Tweet
One other thing I want to point out is that you were stating that they don’t know what to expect when you tell them what you’re doing. I speak with my audiences about this and that uneasiness when you tell them what you’re doing, how do you know you’re in the right place? When you brought that up just a minute ago, it tells me you’re onto something because you figured out something where they go, “I didn’t even know that was a possibility.” That happens time and time again in the cannabis industry. It opens up a lot of new doors and a lot of new windows. I’m speaking this to the audiences, here’s another option. You’re not an expert in cannabis, correct?
I wouldn’t say so. I am a cannabis consumer. I have a medical prescription, but I would not place myself in the cannabis industry per se.
That’s exactly what I thought but somehow you figured out because your love of research, the love of the plant, you’ve been able to figure out a new direction for your life. There are a lot of people that are reading my show that is like, “How can I fit into the cannabis industry?” You’ve got all this knowledge and all this background and research and all of a sudden you created this little niche which makes me extremely excited for you. I don’t mean to go too far off of that but what’s the next step for you? You’ve got the grant. Where are you headed now?
This grant is one of many steps that I’m taking to reach my penultimate, which is to be a fully tenured professor at a university. I want to stay in Canada. I would love to stay in Southern Ontario and to do my research here, not only here, but to scale up, and work with scholars in the United States and in Europe. There are forms of cannabis tourism/drug tourism as it is labeled. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves in different places. I am also involved with the industry. I’m taking part in an online conference. It’s important to tell your audiences because it means that I am connected. I’m embedding myself in the industry. Industry members can come to me when they have an issue or problems that they want to talk about or things. I want to make myself available.
I see myself as an information conduit between what’s happening in academia and how we can take what’s happening. The research knowledge being constructed and take that and implement it into the everyday realities of people who need solutions to problems that might not know where to look and find them. I might have them. A career in academia is, first and foremost, the goal of continuing with research and teaching too. Teaching is a big part of the job. I’m a conduit for information sharing. I enjoy teaching and working with undergraduate students, passing on the knowledge, finding those students who are interested. Trying to train them and nurture them to carry on the torch.
You seem extremely passionate about it is what I can tell.
I am for sure and you asked me, Tony, how do I know it’s for me? It can’t be for me. It has chosen me.
That’s a different feeling. It’s hard to explain that to people when something picks you.
It’s taken time for me to realize that as well. It’s taken me time to realize, “I have a way of thinking and I have many ideas that can help people who need help, so why wouldn’t I share? It is my responsibility.” It’s like, “How dare I keep my ideas to myself if they can help somebody?” That’s something that I’ve realized, over the past two years is when I’ve gotten into the research and fully come out as a cannabis user.
That’s a different spot. We used to call it coming out of the basement.
For me, it would be coming out of the garden shed.
You brought up something before I wanted to touch on the best practices. Are you developing this or do you already have this in mind on the layout of the research that you’re going to develop these best practices?
I want to see what people are doing. I want to do a collection. Collect everything up and see and then what I want to do is see if I can’t organize them into different categories based on this idea of social responsibility. I’m talking about consumption. How are we going to keep people safe with respect to overdosing? That’s rarely a thing, but it does happen. If something does happen, what policies and guidelines do you have in place?
We were talking about best practices because a lot of this information is not only going to, from my understanding, to just the suppliers, but it’s that the government can control tourism when it comes in and to keep people safe.
It’s to cover their own butt. If you want to invite people into your home, you want to make sure that they’re safe and they have a good time and they leave your home telling everybody how much fun they had at your home when you go to that person’s home which is what any destination would want.
Has the government had enough time to give some support to people that are visiting the country for cannabis tourism or around to it? Have they had the ability to do that at this point?
From what I have learned, the government is taking a cautious approach and stance on cannabis tourism. There was a quote in a National Geographic article in 2019. It’s called Destination Canada, which is the Tourism Marketing Board for Canada. They had made a comment and the comment was that they hadn’t speculated on the impact that legalization would have on tourism. I read it and I think maybe that’s where I completely lost it because I couldn’t believe that I was reading that. That’s when I decided “No, we can’t do it that way. We have to on what the impacts are going to be. This is part of the whole program of being socially responsible in the first place.”
Do you have any idea why they’ve missed it?
A lot of emphasis was placed on the growing, and the selling and how licenses were going to be distributed in that way. I believe it’s a natural extension of the cannabis industry. It’s not a consideration that was prioritized when things began but now because more and more businesses are pumping up and there’s clear evidence of a trend in cannabis tourism experiences and products that are available for people in Canada and around the world. I’m feeling as if they’re inching towards being curious about what is this cannabis tourism. They’re coming closer to asking questions about what it even looks. I would be delighted to show them to tell them. That’s part of my role as a researcher, as an academic, is to bring government into the conversation and say, “This is what the industry is doing and this is where I think we can develop policies and guidelines based on the information that I’ve collected through my research.”
I could see what we dealt with here in Colorado as they were concerned about the black market. How do we keep the black market out of the legal channels or how do we work that into work so we can make that legal and we came at it from the bottom up? You guys are coming from the top down. I’m curious to see what the different collaborations that you have when you start connecting with people here in the US because you’re going to see two different sides because the entire country is legal. We have 50 little countries where it’s starting to become legal over here like it would be Europe. It’s different. Providing that clarity for your government is a huge step. It’s amazing that they’re that progressive and that forward-thinking to fund grants. I haven’t heard of anything like that.
I’m persistent, Tony.
Do you mind me asking how much your grant was for?
I should mention the funder, it’s the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Of Canada, otherwise known as SSHRC. It’s a postdoctoral fellowship for two years and the grant is worth $90,000.
That’s awesome. That blows my mind. They’re giving you nearly $100,000 of researches.
I feel accountable for what I produce. I meant it when I said I can’t wait to share with you what I find because dissemination is a huge part of the research process. Talking to people, doing interviews, and collecting data, that’s all fine and dandy. The crux of it is giving it to the people who could use the information. I can write an article. It can go on into an academic journal that sits on the internet. That’s one area where the work will land, but I want the work to land into the lap to the people who can use it and that will make it be industry better for everybody.
People that can use it what pops in my mind is you brought up that there was somebody who’s setting up a resort-type style. As a business owner, my eyes light up because I’m like, “If I had this research, I could make a lot of better decisions on placement and what type of products.” These are all things that you can build a business on that the guys that are in the industry in Canada and the US. I assume there are some people doing their research, but no vast amount across the country. What you are providing, I don’t even think they understand at this point how valuable that information can become. It is getting competitive in the US that any edge you have to be successful, you’ll take it. Coming from my entrepreneurial side, it’s like, “I got an edge. Nobody sees this. I see this tunnel and I’m going to go down.” All of a sudden, you find a niche. I wanted to ask you what’s the name of the conference you’re going to be doing here at the end of the month?
The name of the conference is Virtual Canada Tourism. I’m working with a marketing business. Her name is Jen Mason. She’s the one who is taking it on and we have speakers from the industry. We have a lawyer. We have someone who runs retail. I’ll be doing speaking as well and the shtick I suppose, the draw for the conference is that there’s going to be networking involved. We’re going to have breakout sessions that people can connect and come together, which is something that has been incredibly difficult since 2020 began when COVID and all of the challenges it’s presented. That will be the information that I can put up on all of my social media sites as well. We’ll get the official link. They’re still finalizing it but once I have that, I’ll get it to you.
Susan, I enjoyed having you on. It’s been a pleasure. I wanted to extend an invite for when you do finish your research or even along the way we can touch base. If you come across some interesting stuff, I’d love to have some more discussions on it because you’re in an interesting area that’s going to explode. If they want to reach out to you, any of the audiences, what’s the best way to get in contact with you?Dissemination is a huge part of the research process. Click To Tweet
I hope you enjoyed this interview. There’s going to be some fun stuff. I hope that we start seeing some of this come out of the US too because I could think of the collaboration that you could have with some different people would be amazing. Also always feel free to reach out to me at any point. I would love to ask Susan some more questions. I’m wide open. Give me some questions to give this lady and I’d love to find out for you. I appreciate everybody reading out there. You are incredible. I’m starting to see fun stuff that you are doing out there. Keep bringing it. Thanks, Susan. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Tony.
- Susan Dupej
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Of Canada
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About Susan Dupej
Dr. Susan Dupej is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Guelph in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management.
She is an Economic Geographer with a Ph.D. in Geography from York University (2014). Her research interests focus on the impact of cannabis legalization on Canada’s tourism industry. She is currently researching how social responsibility can be used as a policy framework for supplier best practices. She is co-authoring two papers; the first is about tourism as an agent of cannabis normalization and the second is about the impact of legalization on Canada’s image as a tourism destination.
Dr. Dupej is also a Sessional Lecturer at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, and teaches a variety of undergraduate courses including Human Geography, Economic Geography, Tourism Geography, and Resources and the Environment.