Pubdate: Sun, 29 Nov 2015
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2015 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Jon Marcus


DENVER - Every seat filled, the little tour bus navigates the busy 
streets of booming Denver, whisking its passengers to a glassblowing 
demonstration. Or they can choose a painting class. Or a cooking 
lesson. Or visit a farm.

If this sounds like a comparatively unexciting way to see the Mile 
High City, look closer. Or, better yet, take a whiff.

This party bus is filled with smoke and happy people, and smells like 
an art-school dorm. The tattooed glassblower is crafting high-priced 
bongs and pipes. The cooking class is for gourmands who want to 
flavor their cuisine with an herb you probably don't have in your 
spice rack. The painters' creativity is whetted by weed. And the farm 
is the 40,000-square-foot "cultivation facility" of one of Colorado's 
top cannabis producers.

It's the budding next phase of legalized pot: marijuana tourism. And 
it's reaching new highs in Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon, as 
travelers from states (including Massachusetts) frustrated by the 
slow pace at which the marijuana legalization movement has been 
drifting east fly west to the places where it's already gotten rolling.

"It's crazy how many people are coming here for this," said Heidi 
Keyes, an artist who runs the Puff, Pass, and Paint class for 
Colorado Cannabis Tours, which is now expanding into Washington and Oregon.

The 21st-century version of the wine-tasting road trip, marijuana 
tourism provides a way for entrepreneurs to capitalize on legalized 
marijuana without the hassle of regulations that control the growing 
and selling of it directly (and who, not incidentally, come up with 
really clever names for their businesses).

That includes transportation (the Cannabus, Seattle; Mary Jane Tours, 
Telluride), accommodations (the Bud and Breakfast; the Wake & Bakery 
Inn, both in Denver), personal guides (Colorado Cannabis Concierge), 
and fairs and festivals (the Cannabis Cup, Portland, Ore., and 
elsewhere). Ski Buds Shuttle Service will liven up your ride to the 
slopes in Vail, vaporizers included; 420 Airport Pickup will drive 
you from your flight to Denver to a retail marijuana store before 
you're even dropped at your hotel. There are also plans in Colorado 
for winery-style "weederies" with gift shops and restaurants, and a 
pot-friendly camp-style resort scheduled to open next year.

"For somebody who's, say, in their mid to late 20s, who enjoys 
cannabis, the idea that they can go somewhere where they can do it 
legally and aren't going to be treated as a criminal for doing 
something that's demonstrably less dangerous than drinking alcohol - 
that's appealing," said Kris Krane, a legalization advocate and 
Boston-based managing partner of 4Front Advisors, a consulting 
company that works with marijuana-related businesses.

Selling marijuana for recreational purposes is now legal in Colorado, 
Washington, and Oregon, and is set to start in 2016 in Alaska. (A 
referendum to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana 
will be in front of Massachusetts voters in 2016, and the potential 
tourism benefits are among the arguments backers plan to make in favor of it.)

Some $700 million in marijuana was sold in Colorado last year, and 
Oregon predicts $257 million in sales this year. Advocates say 
marijuana tourism helped draw a record 15.4 million visitors and $4.6 
billion to Denver alone last year - triple the national increase - 
though civic officials won't make that connection; they're prohibited 
from marketing the city based on the availability of pot.

"These are the new Amsterdams of the world," said Eli Bilton, owner 
of Attis Trading Co., a marijuana dispensary in Portland, who is also 
starting a tour company and looking for locations to open a 
420-friendly bed-and-breakfast. And while business is just getting 
going there - recreational marijuana only became legal for sale in 
Oregon Oct. 1 - "We're already seeing a lot of out-of-towners," Bilton said.

Restrictions such as Colorado's ban on interstate advertising are 
among many obstacles faced by this nascent industry. Another? 
No-smoking laws, which mean that while visitors can buy weed, they 
can't smoke it in their hotels.

True to form, wily would-be stoners have figured out ways around 
that: They find 420-friendly accommodations on Airbnb or through 
companies including Colorado Cannabis Tours, which Keyes said booked 
1,700 pot-friendly rooms between July and September alone.

The people who come defy stereotypes, travel operators said. "It's 
all over the place," Keyes said. "Business professionals, couples 
from maybe 35 to 55. We had a woman in her 20s come with her 
grandparents, who were in their 80s."

Ninety percent of the passengers on Seattle's Cannabus are from out 
of state, said marketing director Nate Johnson. "We get a lot of 
people from Boston and New York." And while officials there debate 
whether to allow Amsterdam-style coffee shops or lounges, where 
people would be able to smoke freely, the Cannabus conveys its 
passengers to a cultivation operation, then a retail dispensary where 
they can sample different strains and edibles, then to a "viewing 
spot" that overlooks the city, where they can enjoy what Johnson 
calls "the high point." Then it drives them to a restaurant.

"A lot of people don't want the headache of taking a cab and not 
knowing where to go," Johnson said. "We take the pain out of that, 
and take you someplace if you have the munchies."

That's even better than a wine tour, said Keyes, who went on a wine 
tour once herself on which she remembers someone threw up on the bus. 
"That doesn't happen with marijuana. People are calm, they're 
laughing, they're having a good time."

Boosters say that marijuana tourism is helped by the fact that most 
places where pot is legal also have other draws - hiking and skiing 
in Colorado, fishing in Washington and Oregon.

"People attracted to outdoor activities tend to be a little bit more 
attracted to cannabis generally," Krane said. "If pot were suddenly 
legalized in central Siberia, you probably wouldn't see a huge uptick 
in tourism." States including Colorado boast of "a lot of beautiful 
things to do to start with: the mountains, hiking, downtown Denver. 
And now you add to that the opportunity to try out this whole new 
environment of recreational marijuana," said Chris Carroll, co-owner 
of Denver's 2 Girls Tours, which also runs marijuana tours and whose 
Wake and Bakery Inn is scheduled to open in April.

Advocates say there's also something adventurous about visiting 
cultivation operations travelers once saw only on cable news and in 
bad mob movies.

"People who go to a winery want to see how the wine's made. You're 
going to have that naturally with cannabis connoisseurs too," Krane 
said. "Add to that the fact that here's an industry that's been 
illegal for so long, that's been in the shadows and in hidden spaces 
and warehouses and garages. This has not been something where people 
have been invited in to see the process. And now they have an 
opportunity to see it in a way that was just completely impossible until now."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom