Pot not on top

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.”