Cannabis Tourism in Saint Lucia

The Caribbean region is known for its heavy dependence on the tourism industry, and Saint Lucia is no exception. In 2017, 15 percent of Saint Lucia’s GDP was derived from the tourism sector. Essentially a cash cow for the island, tourism generated EC$602.0m or US$223.0m in that same year (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2018).

Yet, despite this impressive performance, Saint Lucia’s economy struggles on. Public debt to GDP ratio stood at 68.5 percent in 2017 (The Central Statistical Office of Saint Lucia, 2018), a clear indicator that fiscal policy needs to be improved. Having established that the island’s tourism industry is highly successful, the solution to Saint Lucia’s fiscal deficit may be in expanding its tourism product by introducing new tourism ventures. As more and more states deliberate the legalization of marijuana, “cannabis tourism” becomes an increasingly attractive option.

A fairly new phenomenon, cannabis tourism can be considered a subcategory of drug tourism, which consists of travel with the intent of acquiring or using drugs which are either illegal or unavailable in tourists’ homelands (Drug Tourism: General Overview, Case Studies and New Perspectives in the Contemporary World). Cannabis tourism has proven successful in more developed economies, such as Colorado which is known for its “bud and breakfast” (cannabis-friendly) hotels and tours of cannabis plantations, dispensaries and smoke shops, as well as Amsterdam, which is famous for its coffee shops where cannabis can be purchased legally.

Introducing cannabis tourism therefore requires the legalization of marijuana. To maximize the success of a cannabis tourism industry in Saint Lucia, a suitable legalization framework must be adopted. The Caribbean Community Secretariat (2018) suggests two: competitive market legalization and state-controlled, full legalization. The effectiveness of each model will be explored later in this research.

Nevertheless, regardless of the selected model, it is probable that cannabis tourism helps alleviate one of the principal shortcomings of Saint Lucia’s tourism industry: seasonality. With Saint Lucia’s tourism product consisting primarily of the traditional “sea, sun and sand”, the island experiences annual off-peak seasons, usually during the months of June and September to November (The Central Statistical Office of Saint Lucia, 2018). Cannabis tourism may help, though not completely, to offset this effect. Moreover, the establishment of a new cannabis tourism industry creates a multitude of employment opportunities, both within the cannabis tourism industry and linkage industries.

However, much of the confirmed benefit of cannabis tourism is derived from the legalization of marijuana. Marijuana legalization allows for Saint Lucia to generate much-needed revenue from both locals and tourists through license fees and taxes on cannabis. Colorado, for example, imposed a 15 percent excise tax, 10 percent special marijuana sales tax, 2.9 percent state sales tax and local marijuana sales taxes which differ from city to city within Colorado (From Forbidden Fruit… 2016). Legalizing marijuana also presents an opportunity for the island to reduce expenditure incurred from the high cost associated with marijuana-related arrests and incarcerations, where longer sentences result in higher cost for the State (Caribbean Community Secretariat (2018), pg. 103).

Despite these proposed opportunities, cannabis tourism remains mostly unexplored territory. Literature on the concept is scarce, with most available material stemming focusing primarily on the legalization of marijuana. Moreover, there is little to no research on cannabis tourism from a Caribbean perspective. Most publications are based on developed states whose economies and cultures differ greatly from that of the Caribbean region. This makes it difficult to compare and apply the literature to Saint Lucia. It was also observed that Saint Lucia was often excluded from research samples which included other Caribbean states, along with statistics on the island.

This research paper therefore bridges existing gaps in the literature on cannabis tourism, and its potential contribution to revenue creation and economic development in Saint Lucia. As such, this research will serve as a detailed guide to Saint Lucia on introducing cannabis tourism and, more importantly, one that is tailored to suit the island’s economy and culture and, overall, better meet the country’s needs. With most Caribbean economies possessing similar characteristics, this literature is easily applicable to other countries in the region and can therefore serve as a benchmark for these countries. Furthermore, this research is vital to gathering essential information for a thriving cannabis tourism industry, such as demand and supply patterns.

In bridging these gaps, the research aims to explore the benefits of cannabis tourism to Saint Lucia’s fiscal balance through revenue generation and overall economic development, through the following objectives:

  1. Assess and estimate expected revenue and declines in expenditure from the introduction of cannabis tourism.
  2. Examine demand patterns among tourists and supply patterns among both local and prospective foreign suppliers of cannabis
  3. Identify economic, social and cultural challenges associated with cannabis tourism and determine the extent to which these affect the viability of cannabis tourism.
  4. Suggest a marijuana legalization and cannabis tourism framework that maximizes profitability of the industry.

Upon fulfillment of these objectives, the concept of cannabis tourism and its benefits to Saint Lucia’s fiscal balance and economic development (with proper implementation) should be demystified/clarified.

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