WSJ: A State’s Budding Industry: Pot Tours

Since marijuana legalized in colorado travel agency offers marijuana-themed packages that often include a primer on marijuana varieties and ingestion methods, such as using a smokeless vaporizer (check out Herbie).  Colorado Travel Boards Play Wait and See, but Some Firms Seize on Green Light.

The following article was published in the Wall Street Journal January 18, 2014:

DENVER—When Zak Ackel was planning a winter vacation for this month, it wasn’t the powdery ski slopes that put Colorado at the top of his list—it was the sticky green weed.

“The quality is amazing,” said Mr. Ackel, a 21-year-old used-car salesman, who legally purchased marijuana at a pot store here last week just hours after arriving from Lake Charles, La.

It’s too soon to quantify how many tourists have lit up in Colorado since Jan. 1, when the state became the first in the nation to allow the sale of recreational pot. But a number of enterprising companies are betting marijuana will attract thousands of visitors and are seizing on the opportunity to serve the market, offering everything from pot-themed vacation packages to cannabis concierges.

So far, non-Coloradans account for more than half of the roughly $1 million in daily sales at the state’s several-dozen marijuana outlets, according to the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association. The sales have generated about $2 million for Colorado since the beginning of the year, thanks to 25% in pot taxes approved by state voters last year.

Colorado’s Budding Industry: Pot Tourism

An employee at the Dank Colorado pot shop shows off the wares on a recent day. Matthew Staver for The Wall Street Journal

The long-term impact of pot on the state’s $11.2 billion tourism industry remains hazy, however. Nobody can predict how many out-of-state visitors will head to Colorado just to buy and smoke marijuana—or if the state’s budding reputation as an American Amsterdam will prove positive or negative for most prospective tourists.

The Colorado Tourism Office said it has no plans to highlight pot in its marketing campaigns, noting that it is forbidden to light up in public. “If there is a tour bus of 40 people, it’s interesting,” said Rich Grant of Visit Denver, the city’s tourism bureau. But compared with the 13.6 million people who visit Denver every year, “it’s not even a blip on the radar screen.”

Ski resorts and other major tourist businesses largely have kept marijuana at arm’s length. Visit Denver has put a one-year moratorium on marijuana marketing as it determines the scope of pot tourism, even though the city is home to most of Colorado’s licensed pot retailers.

Peter Johnson, however, started Colorado Green Tours to target out-of-state pot enthusiasts. His travel agency offers marijuana-themed packages that often include a primer on marijuana varieties and ingestion methods, such as using a smokeless vaporizer.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg of a very large opportunity,” he said.

At Colorado Rocky Mountain High Tours, demand for limousine rides to pot shops is four times what owner Addison Morris said she expected. Still, to ensure the outlets are well stocked, she is waiting until the end of January to launch tours, which cost $295 per person, including gourmet munchies.

“I didn’t want to book anything before I knew who was going to be open,” Ms. Morris said.

Justin Jones, owner of Dank Colorado, said he has hired six extra workers to handle business at his Denver store. “It’s really a new era,” Mr. Jones said. “People are able to buy some pot like you would buy a bottle of wine.”

Florida-based discount carrier Spirit Airlines also has sought to grab a piece of the buzz with an online ad declaring: “The no smoking sign is off (in Colorado). Get mile high with $10 off your next flight.”

“They can fly on Spirit and have more money for munchies,” Chief Executive Ben Baldanza, in an interview, stressed that the campaign was more about attracting web traffic than trying to build a business around marijuana tourism.

Out-of-state visitors, however, face numerous hurdles to enjoying recreational pot in Colorado. Though users can legally buy up to a quarter of an ounce, many hotel rooms are nonsmoking. Marijuana also is unwelcome at Denver International Airport, which prohibits it to comply with federal laws. that consider marijuana a controlled substance. And Colorado’s ski resorts, which account for more than 20% of all ski trips in the U.S., are warning visitors they can’t light up on the slopes. “There isn’t any place at a ski resort that is not public,” said Jennifer Rudolph, a spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group.

Still, out-of-state customers are lining up by the dozens outside pot stores, and finding ways to consume a drug that is mostly illegal back home. Recently, the tourists waiting in line at Denver pot emporiums included stock-option traders, union carpenters, ad writers and bartenders.

Out-of-state marijuana advertising by retailers is forbidden, so the customers said they located stores through news articles and web searches. One person said he found a pot shop by asking Siri, the personal assistant program on Apple’s iPhone.

While several tourists said they were visiting Colorado for many reasons, the opportunity to buy pot legally was a big draw.

“I’m not 18,” said Sherry Hasty, a 43-year-old Dallas nurse, who picked up supplies at Dank before heading to the slopes. “I don’t want to worry about being stopped with that in my car.”

Others designed their travel plans around weed, including Matt Sylestine, a 21-year-old Houston waiter, who took a week off from work to go on a pot sampling tour.

At 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, he bought marijuana varieties such as Golden Goat and Ogre 99 for less than $15 a gram. He then checked out the store’s in-house marijuana plantation, which is only visible through windows because no one but authorized personnel are permitted in grow rooms.

“It must smell really good in there,” Mr. Sylestine said.

Write to Ana Campoy at ana.campoy@wsj.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *