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Posted: April 01, 2014

Pot not on top

Legalized marijuana not seen as chief tourism draw

Maria Martin

Ask experts in the state why tourism spiked in the first part of 2014 and they’ll offer a long list of treasures the state has to offer: spectacular views, the National Western Stock Show and great ski conditions.

But even if he had to drum up a “Top 10 reasons people visit Colorado” list, a la David Letterman, the director of the Colorado Tourism Office would not put the legalization of recreational marijuana on the list.

“There are too many reasons to come to Colorado for pot to be a decision- maker,” says Al White.

While few would argue that Amendment 64 is historically insignificant, in that it makes Colorado the first state where recreational marijuana can be grown and sold legally, White doubts that out-of-state tourists were flocking to the state to line up at shops.

“Sure, there were a few who made Colorado their destination to make the historic first-day sales, so they could say to their grandkids, ‘I was there the first day they made it legal,’” he says. “But – and this is anecdotal at this time – I think there were also others who don’t approve, who might have taken Colorado out of their travel plans.”

And pot smokers probably have suppliers, legal or not, he adds.

The sentiment is echoed by others who deal with the state’s thriving tourism industry.

While a handful of small hotels and bed and breakfasts might use the new law to promote business, the bigger resorts, among them Hilton Hotels & Resorts, have long had non-smoking policies.

Maryann Yuthas, director of public relations at the Grand Hyatt Denver and the Hyatt Regency Denver, reiterates White’s thoughts on the strength of Colorado’s tourism base.

“With the Stock Show and the Broncos, it would be hard to track, but I don’t think there’s been a spike in the numbers,” says Yuthas of the legalization of marijuana. “And I’ve heard no reports of any problems because of it, either.”

Nor have the ski areas, which all have a zero-tolerance policy for the use of cannabis.

Jennifer Rudolph says it’s been “business as usual” at the resorts, with no significant reports of misconduct.

The communications director of Colorado Ski Country, which represents 21 ski resorts, says nearly every resort has an array of reasons to prohibit use of marijuana. Top of the list: Nearly all the resorts are on federal land, where it is illegal to possess pot.

Federal agents, as well as local law enforcement and directors at the resorts,  have a toolbox of methods to enforce rules, she says.

“Resorts were anticipating the Jan. 1 change, so they had heightened awareness,” she says, pointing to signs posted at resorts that request “No Puffin.” At Vail Resorts, employees were provided with cards to explain to guests that marijuana is still illegal on U.S. Forest Service land.

And Rudolph points to the Colorado Ski Safety Act, which makes it illegal to board a lift, ski or snowboard if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“All the resorts were ready to respond to trouble, but they really haven’t come across any,” she says.

Even Addison Morris, who runs Colorado Rocky Mountain High Tours, says it’s difficult to determine the effect of the legalization of marijuana on tourism in the state. The Stock Show, the Sportsman Show, and great skiing conditions all meant a spike in tourism, she says, adding that there hasn’t been enough time even to analyze the numbers.

But while it’s illegal on federal land, national parks and public spaces, people have long been discretely using pot in hotels and at resorts, she admits.

“It’s a wise business decision for resorts to downplay and avoid the marijuana issue,” she says. “Endorsing or being seen as pot friendly would alienate a large segment of their business.”

That said, she fully expects her own business, along with tourism to the state in general, to flourish in April, during the High Times Cannabis Cup, April 19-20.

“They moved the festival to a larger location this year, and that week I’m running tours triple what I usually run,” she says.

“People are really coming here because it’s a great place to vacation,” says Morris, adding that many of her clients are, like her, in their 60s. “This is just another reason to come the state.”

Maria Martin is a freelance writer.

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Readers Respond

I do not agree....all you have to do is look at the many different license plates in the parking lots of the recreational pot stores and you will see that many people are coming to Colorful Colorado to purchase pot legally. In fact, I was at a local dispensary the other day and saw license plates from Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois and New York. By Rick White on 2014 03 28
Dennis, your comment is erroneous. Marijuana sales have been over $100 million per month since January 1st which means this one product will have sales over $1 billion this year. What other product is matching this in Colorado? Hopefully the federal government gets their arms wrapped around this product and legalizes it across the nation because right now I guarantee you we don't really know the true sales numbers since the industry isn't allowed to make deposits at banks or accept credit cards so it's an all cash business. And I would just assume that not everyone is as scrupulous as you or me and isn't reporting all of their sales. The real number could easily double or triple but we won't know because our government is too conservative to legalize it. By Steve Felt on 2014 03 27
I wonder if Al White would include Colorado's microbrewery industry which has been referred to as the Napa Valley of beer or is he too conservative to admit that any mind altering substance is a tourist draw? We now have over 100 microbreweries and close to that number of wineries in the state that are drawing tourists. Let's compare the sales numbers for marijuana against beer sold at microbreweries and our wineries before omitting it as one of the top reasons we are drawing tourists. And if Al White is too conservative or just ignorant to the facts then maybe we need a new Chief By Steve Felt on 2014 03 27
Well since we are taking advice from someone who obviously lives on Fantasy Island maybe we should also assume that the $100+ million in sales to recreational marijuana buyers was an exaggeration and the news reports that said most of the buyers were from out of state are just yellow journalism. I expected more from a business publication than the cheap drivel from a guy that is too conservative to admit that marijuana tourism is alive and thriving for our economy. Guess if I want truthful news I will have to switch back to the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal. By Steve Felt on 2014 03 27
Seems like everyone is starting to calm down. Recreational cannabis is not going to grow into a social diaster nor a vast economic engine. I think the likely consumer market will mature into a relatively small segment and while the tax revenue will help they won't be a panacea. At least there will be social cost savings from eliminating court clogging possession arrests. By Dennis Brovarone on 2014 03 27
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