In Colorado, pot tourism a lucrative business the state can’t promote

Pot tourism a sensitive subject in Colorado

DENVER — Inside a neon-lit party bus bumping along a pothole-riddled Denver street, Andre Henriquez packs a glass pipe with pungent local bud. The 31-year-old restaurant manager and his wife Ryann travelled from straight-laced Fayetteville, N.C., to experience Colorado’s legendary legal weed scene.

“No one from where we’re from has ever done anything like this. It’s very taboo,” says a grinning Ryann, 26, over thumping dance music. “It’ll be a really cool story to tell later.”

The couple joined fellow pot enthusiasts on a recent smoke-fuelled pilgrimage, hosted by My 420 Tours, to a greenhouse grow-op and gleaming dispensary that looked more like an Apple store than a weed shop. Giddy visitors from Texas â€” where possession still carries the risk of lengthy jail sentences â€” spent US$200 on edibles, extracts and dried marijuana.

Welcome to Colorado, where the cannabis-consuming tourist can enjoy a sushi-and-joint rolling class, a buds-and-suds tour combining dispensaries with micro-breweries or get a cannabis-infused massage at a “4-20-friendly” hotel — a reference to annual marijuana celebrations on April 20.

Just don’t expect to pick up a brochure at the airport.

Since legalizing recreational weed in 2012 and becoming the first state in the country to allow storefront sales in 2014, Colorado has seen a boom in marijuana-themed visitor experiences. But the Colorado Tourism Office and local organization Visit Denver say they can’t promote the industry because marijuana is illegal federally.

“As an entrepreneur, it’s unfortunate. I think it’s an advantage they could exploit,” said Danny Schaefer, CEO of My 420 Tours. “If they don’t, other states and other markets absolutely will, and we’re actively having conversations with those markets.”

As Canada prepares for legal cannabis on July 1, 2018, industry members in Colorado are urging federal and provincial governments to embrace the potential of marijuana tourism. North of the border, groups including the Cannabis Growers of Canada have also called for the country to support small “craft” growers that would draw visitors similar to winery or brewery tourists.

Colorado has broken tourism records multiple times since 2014, but officials say cannabis has had a minimal impact. The tourism office conducted research last year that says legal marijuana played a role in 23 per cent of visitors’ trips to the state, but only about four per cent came to Colorado specifically to buy marijuana products. That marked a drop from seven per cent in 2015.

“(Legal) marijuana is new but what brings people to Colorado is not new. It’s the mountains, it’s the national parks, it’s the arts and culture, it’s the fine dining,” said Dan Rowland, communications adviser with the city and county of Denver. “Now we just have a little bit of ancillary spending going on.”

The industry begs to differ. Mike Eymer, CEO of Colorado Cannabis Tours, said tourists buy the majority of recreational cannabis from dispensaries and the city’s hotel occupancy rates have hit all-time highs. His company did US$1.8 million in gross sales in 2016 and is set to beat that by 66 per cent this year, he said.

“Wherever you have oppressed cannabis consumers is where my guests wind up coming from. We get a lot from Texas, Florida, the entire south,” he said. “I’ve seen people moved to tears because they never thought they would see this in their lifetime.”

For officials, the greater concern is educating tourists on Colorado’s laws. When an out-of-state visitor searches “cannabis” on the tourism office’s website, they’re redirected to Colorado’s Good to Know campaign, which aims to teach outsiders about the perils of public consumption and drug-impaired driving.

Visitors typically visit a location for more than one reason. Someone who wants to go on a ski trip might choose Colorado over Utah if they want to smoke a joint after a long day on the mountain, said journalist Ricardo Baca, a columnist for The Daily Beast who founded The Cannabist website for The Denver Post.

Baca said no U.S. state with legal weed openly promotes cannabis tourism, but the one that could change that is Nevada, which is setting up its first recreational dispensaries.

He pointed out that Colorado promotes its wine country and its trendy craft beer scene.

“When you see them promoting a substance that’s killing 90,000 people a year in America and you see them doing everything they can to not promote a non-lethal substance … you do have to call that into question.”

Back inside the party bus, attendees eagerly cracked open their bags of goodies from the dispensary and began filling up pipes and rolling joints to share with one another. Antonio Segovia of Dallas said his decision to travel to Denver was 50-per-cent to visit family and friends, 50-per-cent to smoke weed.

After the vehicle pulled back into the lot and people dazedly shuffled off, driver Matt Lapoehn remarked that he also often transports rowdy drunk people.

“I’d take the stoners any day of the week,” he said.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter. 

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Former resident wins filmmaking award

Veronika Kurz will be able to make her film with $15,000 cash and in-kind services, up to $100,000

Terrace River Kings win CIHL regular season

The boys held a strong enough lead in points to claim the banner after a 15-2 win Saturday

Terrace residents discuss poverty at provincial engagement meeting

80 people were there as well as the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction

Shames Mountain named one of the world’s Top 10 ski resorts

The UK magazine listed Shames alongside Whistler and hills in Italy, Japan and Austria

Who wants to live here?

Northwest governments partner on marketing plan to attract workforce, residents

VIDEO: Orcas put on a show near Hornby Island

Louis Jobodin shares photos and video of his experience

Vernon to host largest Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games in 2019

Games to be held Feb. 21-23, with more than 800 athletes expected to take part

Sentencing hearing begins for ex-BC Liberals employee in ‘quick wins’ scandal

Former communications director Brian Bonney pleaded guilty last October

Sunwing vacation passengers left at Abbotsford airport

YXX staffers receive praise for help to passengers; airline criticized

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag for Canada at 2018 Olympics

The pair earned a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games

Diplomacy on agenda at North Korea summit in Vancouver

Foreign ministers from 20 countries are meeting Tuesday to discuss security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Kids chained in Calif. house of horrors; parents arrested

Authorities say an emaciated teenager led deputies to home where her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions

‘Reprehensible’: Trudeau abortion policy raises ire of U.S. right

“This man is reprehensible,” tweeted former White House staffer Sebastian Gorka

Most Read