| Pacific Daily News USA TODAY Network
Håfa adai. As the government of Guam introduces rapid testing and vaccinations to contain COVID-19, our tourism-dependent economy is faced with another existential dilemma before the visitor industry reopens for business.
The recent closure of the public comment period on the Cannabis Control Board’s draft industry rules for the commercialization of recreational marijuana on Guam has sparked a backlash from a tourism industry built on family-friendly vacations.
Our travel associations, tour agents and chambers of commerce are sounding the alarm about forbidding public consumption and keeping Tumon pot-free due to the risk it will chase our Asian source markets away.
The fear is that even though the law already prohibits public consumption, the slippery slope that legalized medicinal marijuana and greenlit recreational use will eventually lead to the tacit or outright approval of public pot smoking and mark Guam as anti-family.
But the bottom line has less to do with judging lifestyles or impinging on rights than with protecting perceptions that attract visitors and determining the safest way to relaunch a fragile economy.
While some may dislike the smell of burning marijuana, the law supports your adult right to smoke it in private just as much as it supports the rights of minors and other adults not to breathe secondhand cannabis smoke.
But we must consider how recreational cannabis use, distribution and retail sales will affect our multibillion-dollar tour and travel economy in practice.
Much like today’s Las Vegas, our local visitor industry proudly bills itself as family friendly, with a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment enjoyably experienced in multigenerational groups. But, not unlike Vegas, some adult visitors still enjoy certain novel fixes in Guam, including firing ranges, strip clubs and massage parlors.
The difference is the smoke.
Las Vegas example
Recreational marijuana use is legal in Nevada, but not in public. Yet in practice, it seems more forbidden on the Las Vegas Strip, where casino resort owners are more sensitive to federal prohibition. Off-strip Vegas feels a little looser.
Las Vegas hotel casinos are extremely well-ventilated and allow tobacco smoking while letting some cannabis use slide. But there is a stark difference in the overall smell of hotels, depending on location.
When my economic development team and I traveled to Vegas on business last year, we split up between two hotels, one on the strip, the other off. The rooms, common areas and streetways at the property on the strip stayed fresh, without the slightest whiff of marijuana.
Yet lingering among the rooms and hallways of the off-strip tower was the constant pungency of cannabis smoke, which was also detected in fleeting puffs on the street. This may be due to two facts: a hands-off policy; and the individual ownership of hotel rooms by off-strip landlords who welcomed cannabis users as Airbnb guests.
Earlier this year, tourism impresario Mark Baldyga proposed the establishment of a Tumon improvement district. The time may be ripe for adopting industry-leading policies that set the tone for the kind of image we want to sell the world and uphold here at home.
Former Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez is the president and CEO of Guam Visitors Bureau and chairman of the Governor’s Economic Strategy Council. Send comments or questions to GVB at [email protected]