Cannabis tour operators are heading for Colorado where new dispensaries (shops), and weed-friendly clubs and hotels are popping up to make the most of the relaxation of marijuana laws
As the sun rises over the Rockies, a tour bus pulls up outside the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and deposits a new load of tourists. It’s not your usual busload, though.
This group has come from Texas for a weekend organised by Spiro, a luxury cannabis tour operator, and its package includes a visit to a spa, dinner, a trip to a farm and a weed-infused cooking class. Some of them will buy and smoke, some are just curious, but they’re all here for the pot.
Until now choices for pot tourism have been limited. There’s Amsterdam, of course, where tourists can buy up to five grams and smoke in coffee shops, but this year in the US, since Washington state and Colorado legalised personal recreational purchasing and consumption of marijuana, there’s been a rush to open dispensaries and growing operations, particularly in Denver.
Medicinal marijuana has been available in Colorado since 2000, so many existing suppliers are investing in more plants, space, shops and staff. There are, as yet, no Starbucks-style chains though; many of the dispensaries (selling everything from ready-rolled joints to smoking paraphernalia) are small and independently owned.
Drawn by the mountains and the laid-back atmosphere, tourists arrive daily in Colorado from other US states and, increasingly, from overseas. Buying cannabis is the easy part; smoking it is another story, as Colorado also has tough anti-smoking laws.
Whether in edible or smokeable form, marijuana use is prohibited in public spaces, including streets and parks, and in places visible from public spaces (such as your hotel balcony). You can smoke inside at clubs such as Studio A64 in Colorado Springs, and a new wave of hotels allow smoking (of tobacco or weed) in 25% of the rooms.
Since the beginning of 2014, it is estimated that cannabis sales have brought Colorado $47m in tax revenue, with an estimated third of those sales to customers from out of state. From resorts in western Colorado, such as Aspen, to the university town of Boulder, new dispensaries are opening to take advantage of those looking for a more-refined buying experience.
They tend to look like luxury fashion boutiques, with no tie-dye or Bob Marley shirts in sight. You’ll find ads for cannabis yoga, pot reading groups, arts clubs and other social activities meant to help take some of the stigma out of smoking and make it more communal. Edible products are becoming popular, with treats from chocolates to cocktails on sale – their serving sizes limited to 100mg (milligrams) of active ingredient THC per product.
From sea to shining sea, states are watching how the situation in Colorado develops – with, of course, an eye on the tax dollars. It must only be a matter of time before you can book a marijuana tour of the entire US – yoga and chocolate brownies included.