Pot votes raise specter of weed tourism

Will marijuana legalization votes last week in Colorado and Washington state open the doors to marijuana tourism in those states? Officials arent sure what kind of effect it might have. Enlarge photo

Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

Will marijuana legalization votes last week in Colorado and Washington state open the doors to marijuana tourism in those states? Officials arent sure what kind of effect it might have.

DENVER Hit the slopes and then a bong?

Marijuana legalization votes last week in Colorado and Washington state dont just set up an epic state-federal showdown on drug law for residents. The measures also open the door for marijuana tourism.

Both marijuana measures make marijuana possession in small amounts OK for all adults older than 21 not just state residents but visitors, too. Tourists may not be able to pack their bowls along with their bags, but as long as out-of-state tourists purchase and use the drug while in Colorado or Washington, they wouldnt violate the marijuana measures.

Of course, thats assuming the recreational marijuana measures take effect at all. That was very much in doubt Friday as the states awaited word about possible lawsuits from the U.S. Department of Justice asserting federal supremacy over drug law.

So the future of marijuana tourism in Colorado and Washington is hazy. But that hasnt stopped rampant speculation, especially in Colorado, where tourism is the No. 2 industry because of the Rocky Mountains and a vibrant ski industry.

The day after Colorado approved recreational marijuana by a wide margin, the headline in The Aspen Times asked, Aspendam? referring to Amsterdams marijuana cafs.

Colorados tourism director, Al White, tried to downplay the prospect of a new marijuana tourism boom.

It wont be as big a deal as either side hopes or fears, White said.

Maybe not. But many are asking about marijuana tourism.

Ski resorts are certainly watching it closely, said Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association that represents 21 Colorado resorts.

Any plans for an adults-only aprs lounge where skiers could get more than an Irish coffee to numb their aches?

Theres a lot that remains to be seen, Rudolph said with a chuckle. I guess you could say were waiting for the smoke to clear.

The Colorado counties where big ski resorts are located seem to have made up their minds. The marijuana measure passed by overwhelming margins, with more support than in less-visited areas.

The home county of Aspen approved the marijuana measure more than 3-to-1. More than two-thirds approved marijuana in the home county of Colorados largest ski resort, Vail. The home county of Telluride ski resort gave marijuana legalization its most lopsided victory, nearly 8 in 10 favoring the measure.

Some folks might come to Colorado to enjoy some marijuana, as will be their right. So what? said Betty Aldworth, advocacy director for the Colorado marijuana campaign.

Washington state already sees a version of marijuana tourism.

Every summer on the shores of the Puget Sound, Seattle is host to Hempfest, which, according to organizers, attracted around 250,000 people during three days this year. For those three days, people largely are left alone to smoke publicly at a local park, even as police stand by.

People travel to Seattle from other states and countries to attend Seattle Hempfest every year to experience the limited freedom that happens at the event, said Executive Director Vivian McPeak. Its reasonable to assume that people will travel to Washington assuming that the federal government doesnt interfere.

McPeak draws parallels to Amsterdam, where an annual Cannabis Cup attracts tourists from all over the world and Vancouver, British Columbia, which has lax marijuana rules that have borne marijuana cafs drawing travelers.

Amsterdams marijuana tourism is in a hazy spot these days, though. The incoming Dutch government suggested a national weed pass that would have been available only to residents and that effectively would have banned tourists from Amsterdams marijuana cafs. The weed pass idea was scrapped, but under a provisional governing pact unveiled last week, Dutch cities can bar foreigners from weed shops if they choose.

In Denver, some feared that the Colorado marijuana vote could deter tourists, not to mention business visitors.

Colorados brand will be damaged, and we may attract fewer conventions and see a decline in leisure travel, Visit Denver CEO Richard Scharf said in a statement before the vote.

Colorados governor opposed the measure but said after its passage that he didnt envision marijuana tourism materializing.

I dont think thats going to happen, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said. Theyre going to flock here to buy marijuana as if theyre going to take it back? On an airplane? That seems unlikely to me.

Colorados measure specifically bans public use of the drug. But guidelines for commercial sales still are to be worked out. The states 536 medical marijuana dispensaries are banned from allowing on-site consumption, but lawmakers could set different rules for recreational marijuana shops.

Marijuana backers downplayed the impact on tourism. Aldworth pointed out that pot-smoking tourists wouldnt exactly be new. Colorado ski slopes already are dotted with smoke shacks, old mining cabins that have been illicitly repurposed as places to smoke pot out of the cold. And the ski resort town of Breckenridge dropped criminal penalties for marijuana use two years ago.

Some folks come to Colorado and enjoy some marijuana while they are here today, Aldworth said.

The sheriff of the county including Aspen was sanguine about the prospects of pot-smoking visitors.

For me, its going to be live and let live. If people want to come to Colorado because pot is legal and thats the sole reason its up to them, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo told The Aspen Times. I am not the lifestyle police.

Associated Press reporter Manuel Valdes in Seattle contributed to this report.

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