Increased tourism and the tax money associated with it was one of the top arguments for legalizing recreational cannabis. But how have other states dealt with pot tourism? Reno Public Radio's Paul Boger spoke with Northern Colorado Community Radio's Luke Runyon about what's going on in his state.
“Let’s chat about the impact legalized recreational marijuana had had on Colorado’s tourism industry.”
"When Colorado originally passed legal marijuana and it went into effect in 2014, I think you definitely saw an increase in the number of people who were coming to the state who cited that as the number one reason why they were visiting Colorado.
Since legalization has, since we've had it for a few years now, the novelty has worn off a little bit. They've seen interest, -- from the Colorado Tourism Office -- in marijuana waning a little bit over the last few years. Not as many people are coming to Colorado specifically for that reason, to consume marijuana in whatever form you want. So, I think it's had an effect. How large an effect, it depends."
Using Marijuana in a public place, and that's really what tourists have available to them, is still illegal, right?
"Yeah, the city of Denver actually maintains a website that basically lists all the places that you cannot smoke marijuana, and it's long. Really, the law was intended for it to be legal to smoke marijuana in a private residence or in a rented residence where the landlord said that you could do it.
It wasn't made for people to be standing out on a street corner and smoking marijuana. Consuming edible marijuana is still illegal in most public places, even though it doesn't carry the same sort of stigma that smoking marijuana does. It's still illegal."
Do you that's been a hindrance on the state's burgeoning pot tourism industry?
"One thing I think a lot of people would say is that the state and even the marijuana industry didn't do a great job of when it was first legalized was communicating to people who are visiting here or even people who live in Colorado about what's allowed and what's not.
There were some cases people coming to Colorado and eating way too many Marijuana-infused edibles, having a really bad experience because of that and then kind of blaming the marijuana industry for not giving them the right kind of education when they were walking out the door with their products.
I think the same is true for what's allowed where and that wasn't necessarily cleared up. The state wasn't out front saying this is what you can do. A lot of that fell to the marijuana industry to do on its own. The marijuana industry would say we've got lots of other things that we're dealing with we don't need to necessarily make customer education a number one priority.
I think they've since changed their tune and have realized that educating maybe more novice consumers of marijuana to rightly do it so they can have a good experience and don't end up running afoul of the law. I think they've realized that's part of their role, but that's taken a while to get there.”
Have you seen movement in the legislature or within cities themselves to begin allowing places that tourists can easily go to easily allow them to use marijuana in an environment that's essentially not a hotel room or bed and breakfast?
"You've seen a lot of attempts to make it easier for people to consume marijuana in certain businesses, but not a lot of successes. It's really difficult for a lot of state lawmakers here who -- yes, they want the revenue from marijuana tourists -- they don't necessarily want the make the brand of Colorado solely marijuana.
They want us to be the 'Marijuana State.' They want to take it right up to the edge. I think the feeling is if you start allowing people to smoke marijuana wherever, then pretty soon you're going to be branded the 'Amsterdam of the West,' and people are going to start coming in, and yeah, you'll get their tax revenue but you've maybe tarnished the brand of the entire state."
Luke Runyon is an agribusiness reporter with Harvest Public Media based out of KUNC in Greeley, Colorado. You can find out more about him and his coverage here.