Companies Are Popping Up Right and Left to Serve Colorado's Marijuana Tourists
Tourism has long been one of Colorado’s top industries. Few places on the planet can rival our state’s mountain splendor, powder skiing, thrilling whitewater rafting and endless hiking opportunities.
And these days, where is there a rival to our legal marijuana?
Since Jan. 1, the day Colorado became host to the first legal sales of adult-use marijuana in modern U.S. history, enthusiasts from across the nation have been flocking here to vacation and to get in on the fun. A growing number of cannabis-focused travel agencies have formed to cater to these marijuana tourists.
Marijuana tours range from quick jaunts to the mountains to activities around Denver to all-inclusive, multi-day luxury junkets. Tour guides provide transportation to help people get acquainted with cannabis culture here, find the best strains and stores for their tastes, and perhaps most importantly, to help ensure cannabis users who come here on vacation don’t leave on probation.
“The reason you’d want to have a tour guide is you don’t want to worry about getting pulled over. You don’t want to worry about having five-billionths of a gram of cannabinoids in your system,” said Peter Johnson, founder of Colorado Green Tours, referring to the controversial DUI limit for marijuana in the bloodstream.
“You don’t want to worry about looking at your GPS, trying to find the right exit, trying to find the best locations, the best deals,” he said. “All those things are taken care of for our guests.”
Exactly how many people are coming to Colorado specifically for marijuana is difficult to quantify. Colorado ski resorts experienced their best season ever in 2013-14, but how much of that was driven by marijuana versus ample snowfall?
Denver International Airport set a record high for April passenger traffic this year, but how much did the Cannabis Cup and 4/20 celebrations play into that?
Still, the sheer number of marijuana tourism companies popping up – more than a dozen as of this writing – speaks to their popularity. “It’s been an awesome year so far,” said J.J. Walker, founder of My 420 Tours in Denver.
The Cannabis Sampler tour is Walker’s most popular. For $1,450, excluding air fare, visitors get transportation to and from the airport, three nights in a “420-friendly” downtown Denver hotel and three days of workshops, cooking classes and tours of dispensaries and grow houses. While tour guides aren’t allowed to sell marijuana, they take visitors to the stores that do.
Walker said the average marijuana tourist is over the age of 40. They are are attracted to tour companies for more than the convenience of transportation. They benefit from local knowledge about everything cannabis, and enjoy the camaraderie with like-minded tourists, many of whom are baffled by the experience of legal marijuana and the rules of consumption.
Indeed, for the tourist without a friend’s house to visit, the tour vehicles and party buses are among the few places they can legally toke up. Hotel guests are in a quandary because clean-air laws prohibit smoking in their rooms, yet smoking marijuana in public is illegal.
Walker has arrangements with a couple of hotels, which he declined to name, wherein tour guests get a vaporizer on loan to use in their rooms and a smoking tent on the premises.
Other marijuana tourism promoters are working to find other ways to solve the consumption issue. On the recently launched website travelthc.com, property owners can list their homes as a cannabis-friendly vacation rental and visitors can arrange accommodations, from luxurious houses to spare bedrooms.
From the Travel THC website: “So, you’re coming to Colorado because we legalized recreational marijuana? Awesome – we want to meet people like you. Come stop by a local dispensary, pick out a great strand, and enjoy it … where? Back in your hotel room? Nope – that’s illegal. On the street? Nope – cops won’t hesitate to write that $150 ticket. In a restaurant or coffee shop? Think again.”
The first people to arrange a visit with Travel THC arrived in May; two New Zealand honeymooners who spent half their trip in Denver and half in a mountain cottage.
You don’t have to be on a noisy party bus to take a cannabis tour. Johnson, with Colorado Green Tours, offers trips around Denver or to the mountains for as few as one person. He also does a lot of business guiding potential investors in the marijuana industry and introducing them to key players.
The jury is still out on how much cannabis tourism will impact overall visitation and boosted revenue to Colorado. As Johnson pointed out, “A lot of people are coming here to check out the legal cannabis scene, but Colorado is a gorgeous place to check out anyway and cannabis makes Colorado that much better.”
And he doesn’t believe marijuana tourism is introducing new people to a plant that remains illegal in 48 other states, except for approved medicinal purposes in nearly half of them.
“People who are traveling to Colorado to use cannabis are aficionados,” Johnson said. “They’re connoisseurs like us.”