Marijuana & the mtns: Experts say pot tourism could be big for High Country

Caddie Nath
In this Nov. 19, 2012 photo, prepared marijuana is displayed for sale for those who posses a medical marijuana card, inside a dispensary in the small Rocky Mountain town of Nederland. Since the 1970 founding of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, reform efforts had centered on the unfairness of laws to the recreational user. That began to change as doctors noticed marijuana's ability to relieve pain, quell nausea and improve the appetites of cancer and AIDS patients. The conversation shifted in the 1990s toward medical marijuana laws. On Nov. 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington state legalized its recreational use. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

When Matt Brown and his business partner staged World Cannabis Week earlier this year, they thought they were putting together a one-time event.

But cannabis fans across the country changed their plans.

“The response was completely overwhelming,” said Brown, now co-founder of Colorado’s first marijuana tourism company, My 420 Tours. “We set out to throw a party and accidentally launched a business.”

Their inaugural tour, held during the April 20 festivities, sold out and the company now has thousands of prospective clients lined up, waiting for their chance to book a marijuana vacation.

To Brown, when voters approved Amendment 64 making it legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of recreational marijuana, they did more than give him a platform to start a business. They gave marijuana enthusiasts across the country one more reason to come to Colorado.

“(Say) you’re going to take a ski vacation, and you’re going to go to Utah or Colorado. If you enjoy marijuana, the case became much clearer for Colorado,” he said. “The mountains will see it, the cities will see it. We’re all going to see a boost.”

His company is already exploring opportunities to join mountain tourism with marijuana tourism. He envisions tours that could cater to everyone from skiers and snowboarders looking to enjoy the drug at the X Games to “little old ladies doing yoga and learning to cook with pot in the mountains.”

And he’s not the only one who sees huge opportunities in marijuana tourism in the High Country. Others, some on the Front Range and others in the resort communities, are already looking into the idea.

“There will be marijuana tourism in the mountains,” Breckenridge marijuana attorney Sean McAllister said. “People are coming to Colorado already because this law has changed and the extent to which mountain towns allow it or tolerate it will make those kinds of tourists more comfortable or less comfortable.”

The towns in Summit County have generally hesitated to take a position on recreational marijuana, but a series of bills signed into law by the governor last month laid the groundwork for cannabis-based tourism to find a foothold. Visitors, those whose primary residence is outside the state of Colorado, are legally allowed to possess and consume marijuana under the new laws. Though more restricted than in-state residents, they will also be allowed to purchase small quantities of the drug.

McAllister said they may also be able to smoke in hotel rooms, if the lodging company decides to allow it.

“Hotels will be allowed to have smoking rooms, but no more than 25 percent,” he said. “That’s very good news for most tourists.”

Owners of private rental properties can also grant permission for guests to use the drug on the premises.

Still, it’s unclear how the existing tourism industry will react to the changes many believe are coming. Officials with the Colorado Tourism Office have refused to take a stance on the issue, saying there are still “uncertainties and issues to be resolved around Amendment 64.”

Still, local marketing officials and marijuana supporters alike say they don’t expect legalization to alter the character of guest experiences in the mountains. They say Breckenridge, where marijuana was decriminalized several years ago and dispensaries thrive at the center of tourist areas, is evidence the transition can be a smooth one.

“It’s not really possible to predict how it’s going to effect tourism in Breckenridge,” Breckenridge Resort Chamber spokeswoman Rachel Zerowin said. “The suggestion is that it’s really not going to change much for visitors in the town.”

Under the new statewide laws, the first marijuana retails stores may open after Jan. 1 in communities that choose to allow recreational use. Unless banned by a local municipality, it is currently legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess and consume the drug.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.