Ganja-preneurs create customized experiences that combine recreation and marijuana
September 5, 2016
When Joel Schneider first began doing business in Colorado, he wasn't planning on entering the cannabis industry.
At the time, he was commuting back and forth from New York, managing several business ventures in Denver. Retail marijuana sales had recently been made legal in Colorado.
"I was living in a hotel, and I was blowing smoke — worried about getting in trouble — and realized that there was a disconnect," he said. "You could purchase as much cannabis as you want, but there's no place to enjoy it. I called my wife and said I have an idea for a new business."
He and his wife, Lisa, launched their cannabis lodging business in April 2014 and, two years later, have four locations across the state. The group has Bud+Breakfast hotels in Silverthorne and Denver and ranch retreats in Colorado Springs and Grand County. All cater to folks wanting to make cannabis a part of their vacations while immersing themselves in mountain culture and enjoying the outdoors.
“I see that there’s always going to be a need for canna-hospitality. There will be people traveling around who want to partake. But things could start changing. As other states open up, the tourism business will become diluted.”Joel Schneidercannabis lodging business owner
The Schneiders are among a small but dedicated group of ganja-preneurs looking to create an industry that is organic, high-end, customer-friendly and respectable in the same way other Colorado products, such as food and beer, have become.
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"We have the best agriculture in Colorado," pointed out Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits, a high-end cannabis event company based in Summit County. "That includes the farm-to-table movement, craft beer and why not pot tourism?"
A main attraction
There are dozens of pot tourism companies in the state, most catering to younger crowds. Few offer high-end experiences or target an older crowd.
Schneider's properties integrate luxury accommodations, outdoor activities — such as all-terrain vehicle riding, hiking, horseback riding and yoga at the ranches — and a general mountain getaway experience. And, lest anyone think guests are holed up in their rooms getting stoned, he makes it clear his properties promote the social aspect of marijuana. Smoking isn't allowed in guest rooms — instead, guests are encouraged to smoke in community spaces and join daily events such as Wake and Bake Breakfast and 420 Happy Hour.
The appeal is broad, and guests come from all over the world, he said.
"We think of ourselves as a beautiful bar or smoking club that only offers top-line foods, beer and wine. This is not the stoner mentality with some music and an old couch to sit on. We want it to be classy and an amazing experience," he said.
Cultivating Spirits offers a similar experience in the form of food, wine and cannabis tours, where gourmet food, a dispensary tour and wine tasting are all rolled into one educational evening. In Vail and Summit counties, the company offers cannabis parties, helping people integrate pot into a fancy dinner party, bachelorette weekend or even a wedding.
Wolf, the company's founder, said people are surprised to find that cannabis events can be extremely social and sophisticated.
"The enlightened conversations, conscious consumption and attentive appreciation of what we put in our bodies is what these pairing dinners provide. It is not fast food sitting on our couch not remembering what happened five minutes ago," he said.
Part of the wellness industry
Colorado is quickly becoming a destination for health and wellness, and Regina Wells, of Durango Artisanal Tours, thinks pot tourism can be part of that industry.
The company, which launched in 2015, offers tour guiding and cannabis concierge services. Some of its most popular tours include a walking tour of downtown Durango, visits to several dispensaries, shopping for local artisan goods and lunch in a mountain setting. One of its fastest-growing events is the wellness tour, which introduces smokers to the health benefits of cannabis, along with a massage and hot tub soak.
Wells' interest in the industry came from personal experience. After a health scare in her 40s, she had to look for a less physical occupation and discovered pot tourism.
"After my cancer scare, I started taking an interest in learning about cannabis and health. I was spending long hours on the computer finding out everything I could about its therapeutic effects. It was an eye-opener just how many folks out there were helping themselves and their loved ones with this awesome plant," she said. "Legalization happened at the same time, so it was a perfect time to jump on in."
Durango Artisanal Tours attracts a number of unlikely canna-curious customers who are interested in learning about the medicinal side of pot. They include ex-military looking for relief from post-traumatic stress disorder, a woman dealing with grief after losing her college-aged son and even a couple who came out West to administer cannabis oil to their young child who suffered from seizures.
"We even had a former police officer who really needed a chill break," Wells said. "He was convinced that marijuana wasn't the evil drug he was led to believe and wanted to learn more about it for health reasons. We were not sure what to expect from our guests at the beginning of this venture, but we have had the good fortune to really help people in need."
Looking to the future
Some of these ventures are so successful that companies such as Cultivating Spirits are poised to expand. The company is set to move into other states that legalize marijuana, but Wolf also points out this means the Colorado pot scene will have some healthy competition.
"Canada and Nevada are likely going to come on board next year," he said. "We'll be approaching $1 billion in tourism this year, but we need to take ownership of that now because that money isn't always going to be there."
He wants to see the marijuana industry recognized as a driver for Colorado tourism and become part of the state's official tourism strategy. That legitimacy will help consumers trust companies such as his own and help Colorado stay competitive when other states legalize marijuana.
Schneider agreed, saying he hopes more policies and authorities will become more friendly to pot tourism.
"I see that there's always going to be a need for canna-hospitality," he said. "There will be people traveling around who want to partake. But things could start changing. As other states open up, the tourism business will become diluted."
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