North Bay cannabis tourism seeks to overcome hurdles
I f you have to wake up early to be somewhere at 9 a.m., it might as well be a tour bus full of mimosas and pastries taking you to learn about cannabis and sample wine and beer.
The Sonoma County Experience tour is one of several tour companies featuring cannabis dispensaries and facilities as well as beer and wine production.
Run by Santa Rosa native Jared Giammona, a tour in early August left from the parking lot of the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa. Most of those on board where going to a Wine and Weed Symposium at the hotel the next day, Aug. 8. The tour itinerary stretched to 5 p.m. and included stops at CannaCraft’s manufacturing facilities in Santa Rosa, a cannabis dispensary in Sebastopol, Barrel Brothers Brewing Co. in Windsor, and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. But the company offers a variety of other packages.
Among the vacationers and wine enthusiasts onboard was retiree Perry Wilson of Texas.
“I’m a wino,” Wilson said jokingly at one point. He is a fan of Texas wines and thought the tour would be a fun vacation activity.
But plenty of professionals attending the symposium also came along.
Diablo Valley College Professor of Business Administration Charlie Shi said that since the legalization of cannabis in California in 2018, students in his entrepreneurship class at the East Bay college had begun writing business plans for cannabis startups.
“A lot of them are in cultivation, delivery or turning it into food products,” he said of the plans. Shi said he was interested in the tour to learn about the industry and give students better direction with their fledgling businesses.
Cannabis tours have cropped up in California since it became legal in California, but they are still subject to state and local restrictions, limiting their ability to advertise or allow visitors to consume cannabis products.
“The big hurdle for us has been the marketing angle and marketing itself because of the federal laws around cannabis,” Giammona said. While legal statewide, marijuana remains a federally outlawed substance.
“We don’t have the capability of doing targeted ads or paid ads through Facebook or Instagram,” he added. Those companies reportedly would not accept his money, since he is a cannabis-connected business and the plant is still outlawed federally. He said his company does have accounts on social media sites that post photos and videos of the tours and the stops along the way. “Nowadays that’s essential in marketing.”
He said his startup company has so far chosen not to purchase billboard advertising in the places where it is allowed and relies on reviews on websites like TripAdvisor and Google and word of mouth to promote the company.
While Sonoma County Tourism does not have a formal position on in-county cannabis tourism, Giammona’s business is on Sonoma County Tourism’s website, which he said has been helpful in promoting the tour.
“The county has been great, we have an open dialogue with them,” Giammona said.