Drug tourism is an inevitable reality of the uneven legality and control of drugs throughout the world. While illicit drugs are readily available in all populated areas of the US, the laws for possession in some states are among the most draconian in the Western world. Combined with the relatively high domestic prices of illicit substances, the stage has been set for millions of Americans to leave their home states in search of cheaper, more powerful, or legal highs.
Below are some of the more popular destinations for American narcotourists. Traveling long distances and taking huge risks to find drugs can be a sign of substance use disorder (SUD) or other mental health issues. If you’re in North Texas and need help for SUD and co-occurring psychiatric conditions, please check out this resource on dual diagnosis treatment centers in Dallas.
While other states have also legalized recreational cannabis and cashed in on the tourism revenue, Colorado, the first state to legalize cannabis, still draws more than its fair share of drug tourists. As recreational cannabis has been legal since 2012, local governments, as well as local entrepreneurs, have developed a robust infrastructure and services to cater to tourists who might not be interested in the state’s ski slopes.
2.) The US West Coast
Washington State, Oregon, and California have all legalized recreational cannabis in the past few years. While recreational cannabis is also legal in several other states, these West Coast states are well known for their varieties of cannabis cultivars — and ready access to other still-illicit drugs.
3.) Southeast Asia
While opium, heroin, cannabis, and MDMA are illegal in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia, the easy availability of these drugs and lack of law enforcement in some parts of these countries has led Southeast Asia to be a prime drug tourism area.
Western backpackers will often find almost free access to cannabis, party drugs, and opioids depending on where they are and the times of the year they visit. Drug tourism often follows local festivals and tourist scenes very closely, and people who seem to fit the profile of a potential customer will often be approached by local and Western dealers at these events and places.
It’s an open secret that many American backpackers who visit Colombia are there to have cocaine and other readily available drugs. Cannabis, heroin, and party drugs like MDMA are also widely available in the country, which has made it a popular destination for polydrug users.
“Make Your Own Cocaine” tours have also started cropping up since the 2000s. Drug tourists can follow the cocaine-making process from plant to powder, indulging in the fruits of their labor afterwards. Of course, this kind of activity is illegal and the revenue generated by criminals running these enterprises will often be used to inflict violence on the locals.
Peru, like Colombia, is a major producer of cocaine, with many American tourists visiting the country simply to cheaply partake in that drug. However, a growing number of Western drug tourists are looking for highs of a different kind — the hallucinogen ayahuasca.
The drug has been implicated in a few deaths through overdose or from accidents. However, that has not deterred tourists from going to Peru and traveling to remote regions to partake in the drug.
While the possession of coca leaves is legal in Bolivia, for the most part, cocaine is not. Nevertheless, American drug tourists have been coming over in droves since the late 2000s precisely for the cheap cocaine. The legalization of coca leaf production in 2006 to accommodate native traditions has paved the way for drug entrepreneurs to make its more potent derivative cocaine much more available to both locals and visiting Westerners.
The capital, La Paz, is even home to a world-famous cocaine bar, and several lesser-known competitors. Illegal jungle tours also take interested backpackers to remote areas to indulge in cocaine and other drugs in complete seclusion. The lack of drug-related violence also draws in drug tourists who would otherwise be wary of other countries with a similar underground cocaine tourism industry.
Mexico is, by far, the most accessible foreign destination for most people from the US. While most American tourism to Mexico is legitimate, there is a small but significant narcotourism industry attached to it. While most drugs that are illegal in the US are also illegal throughout most of Mexico, the strength of law enforcement varies from state to state and city to city.
In 2010, the possession of small amounts of certain drugs was also decriminalized, causing a bump in American narcotourism in the past decade. A significant number of Americans also make the trip across the border to purchase prescription medications that would be more expensive back in the US.
8.) The Netherlands
While the country is no longer as big of a draw for American drug tourists as it was in the past, thanks to more American states legalizing cannabis, it remains a popular stop for those taking trips around Europe. While the hash bars are still open, the attitude towards drug tourism has changed for the negative, somewhat, as drug entrepreneurs selling harder drugs have piggybacked on cannabis tourism, causing problems for locals.
Another previously popular narcotourism destination, the wider availability of legal cannabis in the US and other parts of the Western world has significantly reduced the appeal of Morocco for people who travel specifically to consume hashish. However, hashish is still widespread in the country and many American tourists who do go to Morocco will try to include cannabis as part of the itinerary.
Drug tourism is a risky activity that not only puts the tourist in danger but often leads to serious consequences for the locals who are often at the risk of violence from criminal enterprises. In any case, drug tourists looking for illicit substances may be saving some money, but they often take significant risks to do so.