Despite challenges, pot tourism is growing
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
It has been five years since Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Not only has the decision led to a multibillion-dollar industry for the Centennial State, but it has also served as an example when it comes to pot tourism — establishing pot tours and even accommodations that cater to pot tourists.
Fast forward to the present, and other states are looking to compete for pot tourists despite obstacles that may challenge this unique take on travel. Today, there are nine states that have legalized recreational marijuana, with Vermont recently joining the ranks.
The two biggest states — California and Nevada — are currently exploring pot tourism. California legalized recreational marijuana at the start of 2018, and it is projected to become a $7 billion industry for the state.
"This was another milestone in California's voter-approved efforts to be smarter and more cost-effective about preventing real crime," Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told the The Huffington Post. "Now it's time for California to transition a billion-dollar industry largely existing in the shadows of the black market into a tracked, traced, taxed and tightly regulated system."
While government officials see the potential of recreational marijuana to the state, the reaction by tourism officials is a similar stance officials had in Colorado when the marijuana industry first began to make waves.
"We do not anticipate the statewide legalization of cannabis to have any major impact on inbound tourism to Los Angeles," said Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board in Travel Weekly.
Wooden cited a 2015 MMGY Global study for his reasoning why LA wouldn't see a huge impact when it came to inbound tourism. The study found that the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon was "likely to have minimal impact overall on leisure travelers' interest in visiting these states."
"Tourism has been a part of every cannabis industry, whether it's Colorado or Washington or Oregon, in a substantial way," said Michael Gordon, CEO and co-founder of Kush Tourism, which provides tours of the marijuana industry in several states that have legalized marijuana.
"We see it through tours, art classes, bed and breakfasts that there's an industry springing up around the travelers coming to states for [marijuana]," Gordon said.
In Palm Springs, California, one hotel is looking to benefit from the legalization of the marijuana.
The Desert Hot Spring Inn wants to be a "4/20" destination, by expanding their offerings to guests. The inn currently allows visitors to bring their own marijuana to consume on property and the usage of CBD massage oils.
"We don't want to be 'out of sight, out of mind.' We want to be right in the middle of it," CV Pharms Principal Jason Elsasser told the Desert Sun when commenting on the company's collaboration with Desert Hot Spring Inn.
American Green Inc., a cannabis business out of Phoenix, recently bought the town of Nipton, California, in hopes to turn it into a pot destination.
"We are excited to lead the charge for a true Green Rush," David Gwyther, American Green's president and CEO, said in a statement. "The cannabis revolution that's going on here in the U.S. has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century."
Nevada is also going through its own cannabis revolution. In Nevada, recreational marijuana has made more than $19 million in tax revenue since becoming legalized for purchase in July 2017.
When it comes to pot tourism in the state there is just one problem: Where to smoke? In the Silver State, marijuana that is legally purchased can be consumed in private residences, but can't be consumed in public places — meaning casinos, hotels, cars and sidewalks.
"About 70 to 80 percent are tourists," said Armen Yemenidjian, owner of Essence Cannabis Dispensary. He adds: "That's the problem. No other industry in the world can buy a product and then not use it anywhere."
In March 2017, Senate Bill 236 was introduced in the state legislature to combat this issue. The bill would have required a license or permit to be issued to businesses that would allow the use of marijuana at certain special events. While the bill passed the Nevada Senate, it died in the House.
In September 2017, a letter sent to Senate Bill 236 sponsor Sen. Tick Segerblom (D) asked that commercial lounges for recreational marijuana would be made legal under state law as long as people were consuming under the legal limit and it wasn't being sold.
"It is the opinion of this office that a business may establish and operate a lounge or other facility or special event at which patrons of the business are allowed to use marijuana," wrote Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes.
But states where legalized marijuana is the law of the land face an even a bigger challenge in the new year — the U.S. federal government.
On Jan. 4, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended an Obama-era policy in which the feds would not interfere with states that allowed people to use marijuana for both medical and recreational use.
"In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the department's finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions," Sessions said in a memo to all federal prosecutors. "These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community."
The response against the rescinding of this law was almost immediate. Those in the industry and politicians condemned the changes Sessions wants to implement.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardener tweeted: "I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation."
In his annual State of the State speech, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) stated: "We were the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. But while doing so, we've helped create a roadmap for other states. And by the way, I don't think any of us are wild about Washington telling us what's good for us. We expect that the federal government will respect the will of Colorado voters."
Despite the hiccups, it will be interesting how pot tourism flourishes in 2018.
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