The Guam Visitors Bureau leadership wants to get more information before it takes a stance on a newly revived proposal to allow medical marijuana tourists into Guam.
GVB President and CEO Nathan Denight said the GVB board had requested for more information on the possible new market before throwing support for or against the idea.
GVB is in the process of putting together research findings, discussing the medical tourism venture with its off-island market offices, and gauging interests in those markets before engaging in the conversation, Denight said.
“We’re working with our offices and our research department to look into it,” Denight said. “We’re still learning about it and putting a frame together backed by some information and research. I want to present (the research) to my board before I give any formal position (on medical marijuana tourism).”
The potential for Guam to develop a tourist-oriented medical marijuana market resurfaced with the recent visit of a Japan group that urged local elected officials to expand Guam law on medical marijuana to include non-residents. The current language allows for residents to use marijuana to help ease the pain related to illnesses.
Koichi Maeda, president of the Japanese Medical Marijuana Association (JMMA), returned to Guam last week more than two years after first meeting with then-Sen. Tina Muña-Barnes.
In Maeda's recent visit, he discussed the possibility of opening up the island's medical marijuana program to non-residents.
Through a translator, Maeda explained that Guam would be the only place in the Asia-Pacific region to have a legal medical marijuana program, referencing Japan’s outright ban on any form of marijuana possession, cultivation, or consumption, even outside of the country, he said.
However, Maeda also explained that in the case of Japanese medical patients who have incurable diseases, they would be exempt from the law banning use of the drug outside of Japan and would thus be able to travel to Guam for legal use of medical marijuana – a tourism aspect that JMMA supports and Gov. Eddie Calvo is open to.
"If there's medicinal use here for our local residents, then I do believe that same medicinal use should be for anyone that goes through Guam,” Calvo said.
One issue brought up by Department of Public Health and Social Services Director James Gillan is that of Guam’s reputation in the region and the kinds of tourists the island would be attracting if Guam were to open its doors to medical marijuana tourism.
“We want to be careful," said Gillan. "I don't think we want to get a reputation in any of the countries bringing tourist here as being a bad place, a place for marijuana, because a lot of attitudes are that it's a bad thing."
According to Maeda, the JMMA has already proposed medical marijuana tourism to Japanese patients for programs as far away as California, stating that the association is, however, looking for somewhere closer to home.
With Japanese visitor arrivals to Guam remaining flat, if not declining in recent months, Maeda also introduced the idea of opening a new Japan-Guam market, especially if recreational marijuana becomes legalized.
Potential Japan visitor growth
Maeda estimated that a potential 250,000 Japanese tourists would visit Guam each year if marijuana were legalized for recreation, in addition to medical purposes.
The JMMA also offered to advertise Guam as a medical marijuana destination.
Denight previously stated that the tourism agency had successfully initiated a charter incentive campaign in response to several flights being canceled in the Japan for the Guam route. The flight reduction was largely accountable for the decline in Japanese visitors, Denight said.
The new charter campaign brought about 100 flights to Guam last year, and will be bringing a committed 200 flights to the island this year.
GVB also is engaged in heightened online and social media campaign efforts in Japan and additional marketing tactics in other countries.