Pubdate: Sun, 24 Aug 2014
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2014 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Colin Covert, McClatchy-Tribune
Page: Travel 2


Legalization Has Led to an Influx of Visitors Looking to Partake of a 
Little Weed

Crested Butte, Colorado's wildflower capital, nestles in the Elk 
Mountain Range of west-central Colorado, where lupine, aster, mule's 
ear and a host of other dazzlers dot the fields. But currently the 
hottest tourist attraction is weed.

The resort town, population 1,600, supports four marijuana shops.

The sale of medical marijuana has been legal in the state for 14 
years, but since Colorado sanctioned recreational marijuana for 
adults in January, the cannabis shop's stubby green cross insignia 
has become as recognizable as a striped barber's pole - and in some 
towns, more common. Meanwhile, the number of visitors coming to 
partake has grown like a weed.

Crested Butte - once a silver mining hotbed, now a hub for mountain 
bike and ski enthusiasts - radiates a laid-back vibe. Free shuttle 
buses, whimsically decorated by local artists, ferry passengers from 
the cozy downtown to condos and hotels on the slopes. On Elk Avenue, 
the main boulevard, a string of 1880s blacksmith shops, dry goods 
stores and saloons (Butch Cassidy allegedly drank here) have been 
reborn as trendy pizza parlors, sushi lounges and boutiques. The 
posted speed limit is a leisurely 15 miles an hour. As one pot 
tourist observed, "If you're stoned, 15 is fast."

Four blocks south, past miners' shacks in various stages of decay and 
rehab, another shopping strip along sunswept Belleview Avenue 
includes three pot dispensaries. Modest signage is the only clue to 
the cannabis stores' existence. Prohibited by law from displaying 
their wares in storefront windows, they present themselves in plain 
brown wrappers of anonymous stucco and clapboard.

A small group entered one of them, Soma Wellness Lounge, and were 
greeted by Elizabeth Langanki, a Minnesota native with the easygoing 
manner and studious eyeglasses of a friendly librarian. She asked to 
see photo IDs (legal age begins at 21) and then invited the visitors 
to relax on sofas with a coffee or tea and have a get-to-know-you 
chat before proceeding to the sales area. Putting potentially nervous 
newcomers at ease is an essential part of the business, she said.

The shop's retail space, behind a locked door, is a spotless 
earth-toned showroom that could pass for a tastefully appointed 
gourmet tea store. Gleaming glass shelves line the walls, displaying 
rainbow-colored cannabis oil gummi sweets, pot brownies, hash candies 
and squeeze bottles of THC-infused massage lotions. Humidors full of 
gray-green buds the size of a baby's fist decorate the wall behind 
the sales counter. Display cases house sheaves of precisely crafted, 
individual machine-rolled joints. Beside the checkout are bottles of 
Clear Eyes Redness Relief Eye Drops.

The store's prices, including state taxes of 21 percent, are around 
$360 an ounce for high-quality strains. That's about one-third above 
the black market street price, but seniors, active-duty military and 
veterans receive a 5 percent discount.

Soma, open since April, has found that educating its customers is 
crucial. "It's a lot older demographic than we would have expected, a 
lot of people from 45 to 70," Langanki said.

Such shoppers require a fair amount of advice, since today's strains 
of marijuana aim for maximum potency.

As with beer or wine, there are many different qualities and styles 
of pot available, bearing names such as Durban Poison, Super Lemon 
Haza and Afghan Dream. There are sativas that produce a heady, 
energetic response; relaxing indicas; and hybrids that blend both experiences.

"We can't just tell people, 'This is going to get you high.' We have 
to explain this is how you will feel with this particular product," 
said Langanki, who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a 
horticulture degree, and oversees Soma's greenhouse operations. "The 
nutrients they're on are like steroids," she said.

If the store's oversized guest book is any indication, Soma has 
satisfied quite a few customers.

"Awesome, after 49 years I am finally a law-abiding citizen," wrote 
one visitor. Another asked, "When are you guys coming to Texas?"

Many pages feature loopy amateur cartoons of blissed-out smokers.

It's boom times for post-prohibition pot, a new silver rush linked 
closely to tourism. Washington state got in on the act in July, after 
legislators there legalized recreational marijuana.

In Colorado, some $70 million worth of recreational cannabis was sold 
legally in the first four months of 2014, according to the Colorado 
Department of Revenue. During that time retail sales in most tourist 
destinations more than doubled. Telluride's San Miguel County saw pot 
sales rise 174 percent in the first four months of 2014. In Denver, 
with a lower visitor-to-resident ratio, sales rose only 19 percent. 
Though out-of-staters are limited to quarter-ounce purchases and 
bringing it home is prohibited, about 90 percent of sales in some 
counties is likely to be from visitors.

Inevitably, there's an iPhone app: Weedmaps displays all the 
dispensaries in commuting distance, with consumer comments.

Not everyone in the tourism industry embraces the budding 
entrepreneurs. Some businesspeople believe that branding Colorado a 
weed wonderland could sully its wholesome heritage as a hiking, 
biking and skiing family destination.

A search of the state's visitors bureau website for marijuana or 
cannabis produces no hits. ("Did you mean 'canvas'?") The boosterish 
Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau website omits mention of 
dispensaries, as well.

Colorado's laws are designed to keep pot smoking secretive, behind 
private, closed doors. Indulging in public is prohibited, 
theoretically. On two recent weekday afternoons, unmistakable whiffs 
of acrid smoke wafted down Denver's tree-lined16th Street pedestrian mall.

With no Amsterdam-style public venues and private lounges where 
smoking pot is permitted, My420Tours has created a niche, skirting 
the technicalities of the state's hotel smoking ban. For $229 a 
night, the firm will book a room in downtown Denver's slick corporate 
Crowne Plaza hotel and drop off a hookah-style pot vaporizer for overnight use.

Small independent hotel owners are stepping up to serve pot tourists 
as well. Denver's Adagio Bed & Breakfast not only welcomes users, but 
shares its own in-house stash.

The pink wedding cake Victorian in the shadow of the state Capitol 
styles itself a "bud-and-breakfast," offering guests a buffet of pot 
at every meal.

A stay at the Adagio is a one-stop hemp festival. There's a 
"Wake-n-Bake" continental breakfast and pot spread; midday snacks, 
mimosas and marijuana; happy hour appetizers and pot treats; and 
nightly cannabis, cookies and milk.

The service isn't really restricted to posted mealtimes, either. When 
I checked in, staff "budtender" Dan Siegel said, "Well, it's not 
actually happy hour, but we're the only ones here, so why not?" (Full 
disclosure: I don't partake.)

To keep the party spirit going, the Adagio also organizes bus and 
limo excursions to pot stores and head shops, a new category of tours 
that is becoming a fixture of Denver's entertainment scene.

Titan Steel, visiting from the East Coast, had planned to stay two 
days, but found the setting so agreeable he extended his visit a week.

"It's awesome," he said as he accepted a rolled joint in the walled 
garden. "I want to move here and get into this industry myself."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom