8 September 2016
The publication highlights some of the issues from the state perspective…
“We’ve certainly been very dedicated to being a resource and answering questions and helping travelers understand the law,” Blanford said. “Marketing to [tourists] is just premature for us. It’s very difficult to work through the federal interpretation of promotion. It’s a very sticky issue.”
The question of to what extent pot is actually driving tourism is also a point of debate. Little data is available to quantify the level of interest in cannabis among visitors to states where it’s now legal, and in some cases, it’s too soon to know.
While Colorado has seen record visitation since the state legalized the recreational use of marijuana, that growth actually had began by the time pot was able to hit the market.
Research conducted in April by Strategic Marketing & Research Insights for the Colorado Tourism Office found that for 64% of visitors, marijuana had no influence on the decision to visit Colorado. Fourteen percent reported a negative influence, though they still visited the state, and 23% said it positively affected their travel decision. Once they arrived, 11% of travelers age 25 and over stopped by a dispensary.
While Blanford said he did not get the sense that travelers are coming to Seattle purely to partake in recreational marijuana, visitors are asking questions about usage and availability at info booths and hotels.
Answering those questions has become tricky in all the places where pot is legal.
“The law says these are products that are legal to possess, to buy and to use, but it doesn’t designate a place where nonresidents can legally use the products,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pot advocacy group Norml (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
The need for answers about pot tourism is only likely to grow. In addition to Colorado, Washington and Oregon, legalizing recreational marijuana use is the subject of a statewide September referendum in California, where polls suggest it will pass easily. (California already has the country’s most lenient medical marijuana laws.)
If that happens, recreational use of pot would be legal on the entire West Coast of the U.S. as well as in Canada.
State laws forbid using the drug in public places such as on the street or in parks, while smoking bans put restaurants and bars off-limits. Many hotels have no-smoking policies in their guestrooms.
But the growing use of pot sold in e-cigarette form or smoked in almost-odorless vaporizers enables some partakers to skirt those restrictions, and marijuana brownies and other cannabis-infused edibles, regulated for sale in Oregon this summer, make consuming marijuana easier for those who don’t want to run afoul of state laws or hotel policies.
“We’re not going to promote anything contrary to the law,” said Travel Portland’s senior media and public relations manager, Marcus Hibdon. “With each passing month, it appears as though it’s getting easier for consumers to consume it legally, and that helps us from a promotional standpoint.”
Even as cities such as Portland and Seattle officially proceed with caution (Visit Denver declined to be interviewed for this report), businesses that serve cannabis-curious tourists are continuing to pop up.
In Colorado, three Bud & Breakfast locations — their motto: “We’ll keep the bowl burning for you” — offer weed-friendly accommodations and amenities such as a Wake ’n’ Bake breakfast and a 4:20 p.m. happy hour.
Denver’s My 420 Tours provides greenhouse and dispensary excursions, sushi- and joint-rolling classes and even cannabis-infused massages. Pedal Bike Tours offers an itinerary dedicated to the Portland pot scene that includes a dispensary and visits to head shops along with 11 miles of cycling and snacks.
Colorado Tourism Office representative Carly Holbrook said that in order for recreational weed to drive more visitors and have a greater positive effect on tourism it needs to be legalized in more states and ultimately by the federal government.
“There will be more opportunity to market it, and it will be less taboo, more widely accepted,” Holbrook said.
Travel Portland’s Hibdon said he sees legalized marijuana as just another asset among many that have the potential to appeal to Portland tourists in the same way craft beer or local wine might.
“There’s no aversion to marijuana,” he said. “We’ve been talking about craft beer for 30 years, we’ve been talking about our wine for 30 years, and this could be similar.”
Blanford said he envisions Visit Seattle promoting legal cannabis somewhere down the road.
“Our caution in entering the marketplace so far has been necessary,” he said. “We’re actually very open to the idea, and we’re actively exploring and looking toward the future.”