Pubdate: Fri, 04 Apr 2014
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2014 The Denver Post Corp
Authors: John Ingold and Jason Blevins
Page: 1A


Marijuana Tourism Booms in Colorado, Though Officials Remain

Marla Cooley isn't exactly being discreet when she advertises the
marijuana friendliness of her vacation rental home near Lyons.

She calls the rental "High in the Hills."

"I'm in a spot where I can enjoy life at its highest, and I'm
welcoming people to share the experience up here," said Cooley, who
hopes to expand with extra cabins for guests. "I'm an entrepreneur.
There's opportunity here."

This is the new world of Colorado marijuana tourism, where the past
year's winks and nods have been replaced increasingly by an open
embrace of cannabis-seeking vacationers. Lodging choices - especially
at bed and breakfasts or independent rentals - have opened up for
toking tourists. Marijuana tour operators say their businesses are
booming. Pot shops reported being packed on Friday.

And advocates say this weekend - surrounding the April 20 marijuana
holiday known as 4/20 - is poised to reveal just how much out-of-state
interest has been generated by marijuana legalization in Colorado. The
largest 4/20 celebration in Denver history will feature dozens of
concerts, conventions, trade shows, product launches and symposiums
around the city, capped by the now-familiar April 20 smoke-out in
Civic Center. J.J. Walker, one of the owners of the marijuana tourism
company My 420 Tours, likened it to a pot-centric version of the
wildly popular South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

"Besides the DNC (Democratic National Convention), I can't picture
anything bigger that people have really all come together for," Walker
said. "It's going to be massive. ... The amount of money coming into
town this weekend is astronomical."

The city's tourism establishment, meanwhile, remains skeptical of the
events' impact and the interest in marijuana vacationing. At Denver
International Airport, a spokesman says passenger traffic was expected
to be about average through the weekend, with Thursday and Friday the
heaviest days. Rich Grant, a spokesman for Visit Denver, said hotel
rooms are still widely available downtown and at good rates.

"You're not seeing compression like you would if there was a major
convention," Grant said. "You see some of these articles touting these
huge numbers, and we just have no idea if any of that's true."

Here's one of those numbers: 80,000. It's the record number of people
that organizer Miguel Lopez expects at this year's 4/20 rally in Civic
Center - although tracking attendance at such free events is difficult.

Not only has his event this year expanded to two days, it will for the
first time include street closures around the park, security checks at
entry points and an amped-up musical lineup that includes Wyclef Jean
and rapper B.o.B.. Lopez said he hopes to use the rally's newly
elevated profile to continue advocating for the rally's original
purpose: changing anti-marijuana laws.

"We have a strong political course and direction," he

Marijuana-linked businesses, though, also see a marketing opportunity
in the rally, which will feature dozens of vendor booths and a big
tent sponsored by My 420 Tours.

It's that kind of commercial ambition that most worries critics of
Colorado's marijuana system, who have likened the growth of the
marijuana industry to the rise of Big Tobacco. Increase in youth
marijuana use and addiction, as well as concerns over stoned driving
and unsafe product packaging, are all driven by the same kind of
commercialization that attracts marijuana tourists, they say.

"This is something that's not working," said Ben Cort, with the Center
for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation. "And it's not working
because of the level of commercialization."

Graham McBain, owner of the marijuana tourism company So Mile High,
said investment opportunities lure some marijuana tourists who want to
get an inside look at the industry before they put down money. But he
said people wanting to have a good time - such as a recent bachelor
party of seven guys from New York who McBain estimates spent $2,000
among them at recreational marijuana stores - also make up a sizable

This year, McBain is even offering a $38,000-for-two-people "signature
tour," which combines a private jet, fine dining, spa treatments and a
luxury hotel room.

For most marijuana tourists, though, lodging remains the biggest
challenge. Grant, from Visit Denver, said he knows of no hotels in
Denver allowing people to smoke pot in their rooms. My 420 Tours says
it negotiated with its downtown hotel to allow tourists to use
marijuana vaporizers in their rooms - but Walker wouldn't name the

Instead, McBain said the best option appears to be bed and breakfasts
or through private rental services online such as or

"There are people who want to come here, and it's something they want
to do and they need a safe place where they can do it," said Denise
Murray, who promotes her vacation rental home in Manitou Springs with
a private outdoor space for smoking.

Murray said she noted a marijuana friendly space in her online ad so
people didn't have to be furtive. She's not putting blunts on pillows,
but there's a shop down the street and everyone is welcome to partake
- - or not - in her wooded enclave.

The proliferation of marijuana tourism, though, has given others on
the rental sites more reason to be cautious with the guests they
select. Several renters explicitly - and in caps-lock style -
note zero tolerance for all types of smoking, INCLUDING MARIJUANA, in
their online ads.

An owner in Denver who had advertised her rental as having a
marijuana-friendly outdoor space said she has decided to go completely
nonsmoking after a guest sparked up in the living room. Another Denver
owner said she will be removing her rental home from this
summer over fears that she can't keep it smoke-free.

"Our problem is that we don't have any tools to protect our property
from inappropriate things," said owner Michelle Price, who said she
isn't against legal marijuana. "I don't have a lot of answers. But we
are seeing a lot of interest since January from groups we've never
seen before."


4/20 rally

The annual 4/20 rally in Civic Center begins at noon Sunday. Bannock
Street in front of the City and County Building and 14th Avenue
alongside the park will be closed throughout the weekend. Despite the
rally's reputation as a massive marijuana smoke-out, organizers say
this year they will remind attendees that public marijuana consumption
remains illegal.
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