Getting High and Bouncing Back?

Herban Safari bus. (Photo Courtesy of herbansafari.com)
Herban Safari bus. (Photo Courtesy of herbansafari.com)

When my feet first touched the American ground, I was at the Philadelphia airport. We had a seven-hour long transit until our flight to Seattle. While waiting we met a lady from Seattle who had come to visit her daughter for a week in Philadelphia. She asked me how I liked it so far and I responded that it had not hit me yet. She said, “It will hit you when you get to Seattle. It is much cooler.” A question came to my mind. “What did she mean by cooler?” I would soon find out what she meant.

After a few hours, I landed in the state of Washington and made my way to one of the dormitories at the state University which was to be my home for the next four weeks. I went out to explore the town the following day and realized a lot of things were different from my country, Nepal. The streets were wider, it was less chaotic and things ran in a system. The city was very environment-friendly. Even the coffee cups and cutlery in some stores were made from corn extracts and were compostable. When I made it to Brooklyn Avenue which was commonly referred to as the ‘Ave’, I realized that a lot of people were smoking marijuana out in the street! What was surprising was that the roads did not seem sketchy and the people were not being alert or seemed nervous while they were taking marijuana. I later realized medicinal as well as recreational marijuana was legal in Washington along with Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and DC.

A shop in Jhonche, Kathmandu, commonly known as Freak Street. (Photo by Holynow via Wikipedia)
A shop in Jhonche, Kathmandu, commonly known as Freak Street. (Photo by Holynow via Wikipedia)

I come from the land where marijuana is criminalized, yet its usage is taken as a part of religious ritual during Shivaratri, the festival that rotates around Lord Shiva, the ‘destroyer’, who himself loves the plant. Cannabis was banned in Nepal in the year 1972 because of few prime reasons. Nepal had become a popular part of the hippie trail and was regarded as a lure for the ‘flower children’. Eventually, there was a pressure from the USA and UN to put a stop on marijuana industry during the period where their ‘war on drugs’ was going on. The government feared that the youth were being corrupted by marijuana, Hence there was a ban on the herb. But there are still streets called ‘Freak streets’ in Nepal back when it used to be part of hippie trail and as you walk along areas, tourists, especially Caucasians still get asked if barely audible whispers,
“Ganja?”
“Hashish?”

I had heard a few conversations back home among my friends on whether marijuana should be legalized or not. Some used to say that the people will continue taking marijuana despite the restrictions. Hence, it would be better to put a tax on it and use the revenue generated for other development projects. Charles Steven Warner, former UW student agrees to this point. He also adds, “Instead of spending their time and human and financial resources to criminalize marijuana, it is better to direct these resources to look at more serious issues and drugs like cocaine and meth.”

The 25th April 2015 earthquake in Nepal which was measured to be 7.8 richter scale big claimed 9000 lives in Nepal and made millions homeless and destroyed infrastructures worth billions. The natural, human, financial capital of the nation was adversely affected. The fear, terror and agony spread like a wildfire because of the ongoing seismic activity and now the tourism industry has gone down. According to Ministry of Tourism Nepal, 797,616 tourists visited Nepal in 2013. The number is expected to have a significant drop in the year 2015. In a time like this, a question rose in my mind. Can Nepal also legalize marijuana like certain US states and use it as a way to revive the tourism industry?

Washington state generated 70 million dollars tax revenue on marijuana last year. The state government takes a single 37 percentage tax on marijuana which used to be a three level excise duty. The tax is imposed upon the customer and not the retailer.The government knows that there can be negative complications because of its misuse and tries to take necessary measures to keep its usage within boundaries. It can only be purchased by 21 year olds from state licensed retail stores. Driving under the influence of marijuana, resale or giveaway is not permissible and one has certain limits to the amount of cannabis one can buy.

Canbabis usage awareness poster seen inside a bus in Seattle (Photo by Pragya Thapaliya)
Canbabis usage awareness poster seen inside a bus in Seattle (Photo by Pragya Thapaliya)

When places like Amsterdam have been thriving on pot tourism and Colorado has been gaining a lot of tourists who want to ‘go for a hike’, Seattle also plans to grab the opportunity. There have been bus tours to the weed dispensaries and few groups running it such as the Cannabus, Herban Safari, Weed bus club and Kush tourism.

Herban Safari bus. (Photo Courtesy of herbansafari.com)
Herban Safari bus. (Photo Courtesy of herbansafari.com)

Patrick Bennett and Patricia Bennett, the founder of Herban Safari have started the bus tours that centers around cannabis around a month back and they say that even a team of medical experts took tour a while back. The tour includes activities like interaction with farmers, visit to the prime dispensaries in the area and since it is only a transportation company, it does not need to pay additional tax to the government.

When Nepalese have been trying to look for creative options to resurrect the tourism industry, cannabis tourism could be one of the options to grow on. Although it doesn’t seem like it is going to happen anytime soon, the legalization could bring in new tourists and also the taxation can generate significant amount that can be used in reconstruction of the nation.

Aditya Man Shrestha, a journalist and author from Nepal who also advocates for the legalization of marijuana says, “Cannabis is a mild drug and it doesn’t have negative effect on people’s health. There is no reason why it should be criminalized and when you criminalize the usage of cannabis, it makes the youth population more curious about it and hence it will increase its consumption.” In his article published in the Bangkok Post in the year 1978, Shrestha mentions that criminalization of marijuana was a blow to the farmers in the western regions of Nepal and it also had negative impact in the economy. Despite of this, Shrestha believes that pot tourism is not the way to go. He says, “Nepal has adequate natural resources. It is popular for adventure tourism. If we start cannabis tourism, all these aspects of Nepal will be overlooked and it might tarnish the reputation of the country.”

Although the debate continues in regards to the tourism that centers around the herb, many agree that criminalizing the herb is definitely not the way to go. The doubt still remains whether the legalization exclusively for the tourism promotion might bring disgrace to the small, yet proud nation which holds other attractions to lure the tourists.

This story was produced in the 2015 SUSI program.

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