Ottawa

Smiths Falls sets sights on becoming Canada's pot tourism capital

Smiths Falls has rolled out a new cannabis tourism strategy, setting the eastern Ontario town on a path to become the capital of the burgeoning sector in Canada, according to Mayor Shawn Pankow.

Eastern Ontario community rolled out cannabis tourism strategy Monday

Staff work in a marijuana grow room that can be viewed at the new visitors centre at Canopy Growth's Tweed facility in Smiths Falls, Ont. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Smiths Falls, Ont., has rolled out a new cannabis tourism strategy, setting the town on a path to become the capital of the burgeoning sector in Canada, according to Mayor Shawn Pankow.

"In other parts of the world where legalization has been introduced, cannabis tourism has injected hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect revenue," Pankow said in a news release Tuesday.

"We believe Smiths Falls is the first community in Canada to develop a Cannabis Tourism Strategy. This is an important step in solidifying our role as a leader."

The strategy, presented to the eastern Ontario town's council Monday, aims to meet "the ever-changing landscape of cannabis tourism," according to the release, and includes the creation of a "cannabis business accelerator" and investigating the potential use of hempcrete —  bio-composite building material incorporating the woody inner core of the hemp plant — in town buildings.

It's the work of a cannabis tourism committee, struck earlier this year, that brought together local businesspeople, industry leaders and tourism experts.

Their hope is to turn the town of about 9,000 into an attraction for cannabis consumers and those looking to explore the once illegal drug. 

Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow says the eastern Ontairo town is poised to become a leader in cannabis tourism. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

A good head start

The town is already home to the world's largest licensed cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, which already has a visitor centre at the former Hershey chocolate factory.

"We are proud to open our doors to tourists and visitors from around the world who are interested in learning more about cannabis," said Mark Zekulin, the company's CEO.

It was always our dream to bring tourists back to Smiths Falls.- Mark Zekulin, Canopy Growth

"It was always our dream to bring tourists back to Smiths Falls, and to pay homage to the history and heritage of the town."

Some 30,000 visitors have already paid a visit to the centre, Zekulin said.

On Monday, Pankow told CBC's All In A Day he wants tourists to see how cannabis is produced, and learn how the drug can affect them.

Missing ingredient 

The dream of turning Smiths Falls into a cannabis destination faces one significant hurdle, however: the town still has no licensed cannabis retailer.

Pankow said he's hopeful that will happen within the next year or so through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission's lottery.

"That will be that sort of one key missing ingredient," Pankow said. 

A former blue-collar town looks to cash in on green-themed tourism. We get details from the mayor of Smiths Falls about the proposal to make the town Canada's top cannabis tourism destination. 9:23

Pankow also sees a fertile market for edibles, cannabis-infused food and even cannabis-themed spas. 

"We believe it's important to make sure we set a strategy to look to the future, seek opportunities and make that happen, rather than simply sitting back and waiting to see what happens," Pankow said. 

Advertising restrictions

Federal restrictions on cannabis advertising will be another potential hurdle for those implementing the town's strategy.

The federal government bans advertising that "evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring," according to the Cannabis Act. 

Pankow said the town will follow advertising laws, and believes there are other ways to spread the word.

"It's one of those things that when people remove some of the barriers and preconceived notions we hear around cannabis and recognize that it probably is the same breadth they would talk about consuming alcohol, the dialogue changes and people will try to get out and enjoy the experience," he said.

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