While the Guam Visitors Bureau and certain businesses have urged caution with promoting a cannabis industry on Guam, pointing to significant projected economic losses, Cannabis Control Board Chairwoman Vanessa Williams told the Rotary Club of Guam last week that she hasn't seen data backing those claims.
GVB and certain businesses have warned against marketing Guam as a cannabis destination, concerned that it would damage the tourism industry, and have proposed banning cannabis use, advertising and sales in "family friendly" Tumon.
Tourism officials presented to the Rotary Club of Guam prior to Williams, noting their concerns with cannabis in Tumon and GVB's estimate that cannabis would result in a $579 million loss to Guam, with a net loss of $486 million, taking into consideration projected economic benefits from cannabis.
Williams said on Thursday that she hears concerns about cannabis being catastrophic to tourism.
"What I haven't seen is any data to back that up," she added. "GVB went to the Legislature saying the same thing, that 'this may compromise Guam's image as a family friendly and safe destination. We're concerned about the legalization of recreational cannabis and the unintended ramifications it would have on tourism.' I'm actually reading you their testimony from last year. ... They said, 'GVB cannot have an opinion on the recreational use of cannabis, without an impact study.'"
GVB stated the study should involve asking source markets about their feelings and expectations, as well as give insight as to how recreational cannabis would affect the local economy, Williams said.
"What does the Legislature do? They turn around and they added a provision in the law that says, 'GVB, you shall conduct an independent economic impact study and you shall determine its parameters,'" she added.
What the Cannabis Control Board has now is a study procured by GVB that espouses economic benefits to Guam based on visitor and local consumption, Williams said.
Economic impact study
The study was produced by Tourism Economics, which projected $80 million in direct tourism spending, including retail purchases, lodging, transportation, food and beverage, and entertainment; $12 million direct cannabis industry spending by both residents and visitors; $24 million in direct labor incomes; and 754 direct jobs.
The total potential impact, which includes direct, indirect and induced output, is projected to be $133 million annually.
These numbers, however, are the potential direct and total impacts for when the recreational cannabis industry is stabilized. The study was conducted pre-COVID-19.
But according to GVB officials, the study quantified only the benefits of establishing a new cannabis industry and did not take into consideration its effects on tourism, Post files state.
Prior to Thursday's Rotary Club meeting, the Guam Daily Post asked GVB for the assessment or report behind its findings regarding the impact of cannabis on tourism. But what was sent to the Post was a link to the same economic impact assessment from Tourism Economics.
That study also talks about cultural issues associated with cannabis in Asia.
Recreational cannabis in Asia is currently a criminal offense, with death a possible punishment in certain Asian countries if cannabis is trafficked or possessed in large quantities, according to the study. Some countries punish residents who consume cannabis while abroad and return with traces of the substance in their systems, the study added.
But the study also talks of Asia becoming a potential market for cannabis. Some Asian countries have begun softening their stances as cannabis laws become more relaxed in the West.
"For example, China, Thailand and Singapore are all pursuing research into the health care applications of cannabis. Thailand and South Korea both legalized medical cannabis in February 2019 and March 2019, respectively," the study states. "Thailand also is seeking to decriminalize possession of the cannabis plant."
Tourism Economics references a study by Prohibition Partners, which estimates 85.5 million cannabis users in Asia by 2024, generating a market value of $8.5 billion, with recreational use accounting for $2.7 billion. The Prohibition Partners study assumes all Asian countries will legalize medical cannabis and all, except China, will have regulated recreational use, according to Tourism Economics.
"I've seen numbers floated around in the media, but I have not seen a single study from ... whatever the law requires, from GVB or anyone, that says (cannabis is) going to cause those drastic reductions in numbers," Williams said Thursday.
Regarding banning cannabis in Tumon, Williams said her perspective was that the Legislature would have banned cannabis in certain villages if that is what it wanted.
"I think even those in the visitor industry would agree, shouldn't go to the (cannabis) board, because I think one of their other concerns was the fact that the Legislature relegated a lot of its duties to the board. So if that's the concerns, following that logic, I don't think it's fair to put that strong policy demand there," Williams said.