Since Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana in 2012, the entire country has watched to see what ramifications the move would have on the state’s culture, economics, and tourism. Two years into the experiment the results are clear: Pot tourism is booming in Colorado.
16.4 million people visited the state's capital in 2015 and, while there, spent over $5 billion. That’s one million more visitors than during the previous year, and a new Denver tourism record for the 10th year in a row. The increase in visitors can be attributed in part to increased tourism marketing, but recreational marijuana is another draw and its allure only seems to be growing.
In 2014, Colorado marijuana outlets sold $699 million of product and followed that up with $996 million in 2015. Already in 2016 the numbers are staggering; In the first three months of 2016, Colorado pot shops sold more than $270 million in cannabis and related products. This year is on track to surpass $1 billion. In addition to sales, legalization has ushered in thousands of new jobs and the state has collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015 alone.
According to a study commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office in 2015, legal weed influenced nearly 49 percent of visitors. The study’s questions may have been misleading; the poll never asked whether the influence was positive or negative. But in towns from Denver to Telluride, dispensaries are ubiquitous and easy to access; in other towns like Vail and Breckenridge, however, you have to go outside city boundaries to buy weed. Whichever town people visit, legal weed is both a curiosity and a novelty.
More research still needs to be done, but the market for marijuana-focused tourism is without a doubt growing. The company Bud+Breakfast now has four pot-friendly bed-and-breakfast locations in Colorado, with a just-opened hotel in Parshall (Camp Bud+Breakfast), about 1.5 hours from Denver. The property, in a partnership with Aspen Canyon Ranch, includes 14 cabins that start at $399 a night and the tag line "We’ll keep the bowl burning for you." Cannabis smoking is prohibited inside the cabin, but allowed everywhere else. Bud+Breakfast also has three other locations, in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Silverthorne, and the company told Westword Magazine that most of their business comprises out-of-state tourists who’ve had a tough time finding places they can consume cannabis in the state.
Outside of pot-focused lodging options, marijuana-themed tours have gained in popularity, especially in the Mile High City. Colorado Cannabis Tours offers bookings on pot-friendly hotels and an array of tours and classes. For $99, visitors can take a party bus to a state-of-the-art marijuana grow facility, have lunch at Cheba Hut (a pot-friendly deli), visit 2-3 dispensaries, and attend a glass blowing demonstration. My 420 Tours offers everything from an "Apothecanna Cannis Massage" to a cannabis cooking class or "foodie" tour. Tourists visiting Colorado can take a marijuana-focused airport transfer, book a stoner paint class, or go on a pot-inspired mountain trek.
As the New York Times recently called it, the state’s "green rush" is like visiting Napa Valley with weed instead of wine. And the chief executive of Pioneer Industries (parent of My 420), Danny Schaefer, told the Times in April 2016 that business was already up 35 percent in 2016. Many tourists head to Colorado to participate freely in a pastime they have to hide back home.
But despite the cannabis-friendly lodges, the glass-blowing glasses, or the some 1,000 medical or retail marijuana facilities in the state, it’s not a complete free-for-all in Colorado. Public consumption is banned, possession of marijuana in any of the state’s federally-managed national parks is a crime, and most hotels are wary of pot use. Still, the growing success of pot tourism points to a state economy that draws visitors for the skiing, the beer, and now, the pot.