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Marijuana Tourism Attracts Millions of Visitors and Dollars

Tourists are increasingly visiting Colorado for its legal marijuana


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Visitors to Colorado look forward to enjoying its scenic beauty, its outdoor activities — and increasingly, its legal marijuana.

According to research from the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) with partner Strategic Marketing and Research Insights (SMARI), 6.2% of Colorado travelers say legal marijuana was one of the main reasons they visited the state. Even if it wasn’t the main reason for the visit, marijuana did become part of a larger percentage of tourists’ activities. Sixteen percent of winter 2018-2019 travelers and 15% of summer 2018 travelers visited a marijuana dispensary or store while they were here.

And marijuana-motivated visitors tend to either stay longer or spend more, SMARI research shows. Travelers who participate in marijuana activities report longer trips than the average Colorado visitor — 5.1 nights versus 4.6 nights. “With the longer trips, trip expenditures are higher, although the average per person/per day expenditures are lower,” says Abby Leeper, communications manager for CTO. “Those who are motivated by participating in marijuana-related activities, on the other hand, reported shorter trips but higher expenditures.”

Leeper breaks it down: The average visitor spends $1,869 per trip to Colorado. A visitor who participates in marijuana activities spends $1,930 on average per trip. A visitor who responded that marijuana motivated their trip to Colorado spent an average of $2,030. Travelers who visit a marijuana dispensary also reported dining at local restaurants, shopping, going for scenic drives, skiing/snowboarding and visiting state and national parks.

That seems to dispel certain stereotypes about marijuana tourism. Jeremy Bamford, founder and CEO of the travel website PotGuides, says when he launched the site more than five years ago, he heard from naysayers. “People said, ‘Is this going to attract a bunch of hippies with no money coming here and wrecking Colorado?’” Bamford says.

Instead, his site, and businesses that offer marijuana-centric bus tours and sightseeing, have attracted a wide variety of travelers. “You get some people who are inquisitive and curious and want to know the plant’s benefits,” Bamford says. “Other people are interested in taking selfies in front of a lot of plants and posting it on social media.”

According to “Market Size and Demand for Marijuana in Colorado 2017 Update,” a report commissioned in 2016 by the Colorado Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division, about 6.5 million out-of-state visitors had 17.9 million marijuana use days in 2016 and an estimated 19 million marijuana use days in 2017. That contributes to what has become a booming business that topped $1 billion in tax revenue to the state this year, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Marijuana sales from 2014 to date exceeded $6.56 billion.

The largest source of out-of-state marijuana tourists was California, with 19.4% of the visitors in 2016. Second was New York, with 8.7%, and third was Florida, with 7.6%. Also in the top five were Texas (6.0) and Illinois (5.2).

Take a Tour

Many of the visitors take bus tours that stop at grow facilities and dispensaries, along with restaurants and sightseeing spots. Goldie Solodar, owner of City Sessions, says the bus tour company fills requests for everything from bachelor/bachelorette parties to people who want to find out whether marijuana will alleviate their ailments. The largest group, she says, is industry people who hope to start their own businesses.

“We take the approach of cannabis being a quality-of-life plant,” Solodar says. “We provide the education, and we customize the experience based on individuals’ needs.” She adds that 95% of customers visit from out of state.

While the educational component has its appeal, there are also people who simply want to enjoy marijuana. “I ask people what their favorite part of the tour was, and they say being on a bus full of strangers celebrating a plant they love,” says Michael Eymer, founder and CEO of Colorado Cannabis Tours. “They have it in their home state, let’s not kid ourselves, but here they purchase from a legal system for the first time in their lives.” 

The state of Colorado and the city of Denver have regulations related to public consumption of marijuana, so 420-friendly vehicles are buses or vans that have partitions between passengers and driver. There are some hotels that present themselves online as 420-friendly, but since hotels have to be at least 75 percent smoke-free under the Colorado Clean Air Act, travelers can rent vaporizers in the rooms or consume edibles.

Challenges for tour operators include the marijuana ad ban on social media sites and increasing competition from nearby states that have relaxed their own pot laws. Still, the demographic for these tours is expanding, and operators remain optimistic. “The diversity of the canna tourist is just as diverse as society,” Bamford says. “People are interested in checking out the scene, but it’s part of a vacation.”

Ready to hop on the bus? 

Here is a sampling of marijuana tours. 

CITY SESSIONS 
$100 TO $500+

Tours range from the two-hour Cannabis Educational Tour, a walk-through of a grow facility, to the four-to-six hour private Industry Tour for Cannabis Investors, which also includes a look at labs and extraction facilities and reviews of business models.

COLORADO CANNABIS TOURS
$69 to $199

Two-and-a-half hour Essential Colorado Cannabis Tour, customers ride a 420-friendly bus to a grow and cultivation facility, then stop at a private lounge to sample products. Other tours include activities such as a glass-blowing demo, the CannaBrew Brewery and Grow Facility Tour, and a Puff, Pass and Paint class. 

LOOPR
$42

The two-and-a-half hour City Party Bus Tours stop at snack bars, coffee shops and restaurants book-ended by stops at dispensaries. There are also Pizza and Pot tours.

LUXURY CONCIERGE
$299

There are private chauffeured limo tours of Lookout Mountain and Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Rocky Mountain National Park, Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, or a Hops & Crops tour of brewpubs and dispensaries.

MY 420 TOURS
$29 to $89

Two-hour walking tours include Wine and Weed Walking Tour and Blaze and Graze Graffiti Walking Tour. 

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Nora Caley

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics.

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