Back in October 2018, Canada became the second country (after Uruguay) to legalize the recreational use of marijuana on a federal level. Dispensaries have popped up throughout the country, scientific research focused on cannabis is booming and cannabis tourism has become a focus of several parts of the country.
One town riding this policy shift sits about an hour southwest of Ottawa: Smiths Falls, Ontario. So enthusiastic is the local embrace of legal weed that a group of investors recently bought the public Lombard Glen Golf Course and aim to rebrand it "Rolling Greens," which, according to this report by Evelyn Harford of InsideOttawaValley.com, one of the partners reckons will make it "Canada's, and perhaps North America's, first cannabis-themed golf course."
In addition to renaming the course, the new ownership plans to renovate the clubhouse and improve the outdoor patio setup, presumably to foster a sense of kumbaya among its clientele. Other amenities like miniature golf, a drive-in movie theater and resort accommodations are part of longer-term plans.
If you’re wondering whether the older golfing crowd will embrace what’s going on at Lombard Glen, only time will tell. But studies indicate that seniors are the largest growing market of medical cannabis users in the country. Part of the course’s mandate will be centred around cannabis education. The course will remain an 18-hole course. However, with the new ownership and actives happening on the premises, it will become a 19+ venue ... moving forward, there is talk of constructing and drive-in movie theatre, mini-putt and creating a resort.
The course, designed by David Moote and opened in 1964, does not appear to be much better than average in terms of layout, but it should provide a nice amenity to people coming to Smiths Falls for the other green stuff. It has poa annua greens at the moment; no word yet on whether the new owners will be replacing the putting surfaces with a blend of Kentucky Bluegrass, featherbed bent and Northern California sensimilla.
If you're wondering why a town of less than 9,000 people in relatively remote central Ontario makes sense as the site of such a niche venture, it's because Smiths Falls is building on a long history of welcoming visitors from far-flung places to sample sought-after edibles of another kind.
For half a century, Smiths Falls was known as the "Chocolate Capital of Canada" due to the large Hershey factory in town, the company's first outside the United States. At peak, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 visitors descended on Smiths Falls annually to tour the factory and get sweets from the source. But Hershey moved the operation to Mexico in 2008, and other major area employers lit out for cheaper-labor locales in the midst of the recession, pulling some 1,700 jobs out of town. At one point, 40% of Smiths Falls' working-age population was jobless.
Enter Canopy Growth Corporation, the first of Canada's prominent licensed growers of medical- and recreational-use marijuana. Publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (CGC), Canopy, which maintains the brand Tweed, took up residence in the vacated Hershey facility in 2014. Medical marijuana had been used in Canada since the early 2000s, but the legalization of it on a recreational level, which took effect on October 17, 2018 is a game-changer for companies like Canopy as well as the economy of Smiths Falls. Thus far, recreational marijuana has only been available via online order in Ontario, but come April 1, 2019, retail stores are expected to open. Canopy is expected to have its own retail operation at the old chocolate factory.
Though Rolling Greens' owners are not directly affiliated with Canopy, it's not a stretch to see their eagerness to latch onto the growing cannabis tourism industry in Canada.
Despite widespread support for recreational pot legalization in the United States, just 10 states currently allow it on a recreational level (there are 33 medical marijuana-friendly states). But those states include golf hotbeds like California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Michigan. Could some enterprising American course owner tout explicit pot-friendliness in order to court a loyal clientele?
Furthermore, with industrial hemp farming becoming legal with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, several American purveyors of CBD (cannabidiol) products have cropped up, touting the calming effects the active, non-mind-altering compound has been shown to offer. I saw around a half dozen booths with CBD products at last week's PGA Merchandise Show, including MedTerra, whose hemp is grown in Kentucky.
If large-scale CBD acceptance continues apace in the United States and Canada's own full legalization experiment goes well, the U.S. might follow suit before long. Perhaps golfers stateside will be rolling joints and rolling putts along with our neighbors to the north.