Colorado’s ‘High Country’ Takes on New Meaning

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Some are saying that marijuana tourism could rival the state’s multi-billion dollar ski and snowboard industry.

Voters in Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives in 2012 legalizing recreational usage of marijuana, and starting on January 1, 2014, specialty pot shops are expected to open in Colorado. Marijuana tour operators started popping up in Colorado last spring, when the Denver Post and others noted the launch of My 420 Tours, “America’s First Legal Marijuana Tourism Company,” named to commemorate April 20 (4/20), which has come to be known as “weed day” among pot smokers.

USA Today recently highlighted several other in-state marijuana tour companies, which often plan on combining pot-themed trips with visits to Colorado’s famed ski resorts. The price of a tour typically includes a limo and driver, and snacks, soda, and marijuana are given away free because the company is not a legal pot dispensary. “What I’m getting are a lot of old stoners, and a lot of wealthy people who want to come do it safely with a concierge,” said Timothy Vee, owner of Colorado High Life Tours. “Now the kids are gone, they’re 60 years old and they want to get high.”

Another pot-themed tour operation, Colorado Green Tours, began suggesting customized “Cannabis Apres-Ski” tour packages at the start of the ski season.

How big could marijuana tourism become in the Colorado Rockies? “We think it could rival skiing,” Chris Walsh, editor of Marijuana Business Daily, told the Vail Daily. “Not next year or the year after, but down the road.”

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While many considering Colorado to offer the best skiing in the world at resorts such as Vail, the unprecedented combination of legal marijuana and top-notch powder gives extra reason for tourists to pick Colorado over other ski destinations. “The Colorado skiing industry is competing with resorts from all over the country and world,” said Walsh. “This could set Colorado’s skiing industry apart from its competitors in places like Utah and California.”

For the time being, however, it looks like sales of recreational marijuana in Colorado will be hampered because there’s just not enough pot to meet the expected demand come the start of 2014. More than 100 stores have applied to become legal marijuana dispensaries, but it’s been estimate that come January 1, only about a dozen will be operational in Denver, the state’s largest city.

Marijuana Business Daily has reported that state laws have made it difficult, if not impossible, for pot growers to ramp up production until January. It could take several months for supplies to catch up with demand, and during the interim the marketplace may be chaotic:

“While demand is expected to soar, supply will be roughly the same over the next few months. That imbalance could create a host of problems, from operational issues to empty shelves. Retail stores might have to actually turn away customers or temporary close to rebuild inventory. And prices could fluctuate significantly.”

Meanwhile, some ski towns worry that the influx of marijuana tourism could hurt, rather than help, local businesses and the family-friendly atmosphere. In an NPR segment, one waiter at a popular restaurant in Vail, which has thus far banned sales of recreational and medicinal marijuana, said he thought the rise of pot tourism could be a turn-off for many visitors. “This town is driven on a high-class clientele that come out here with their families, for a family vacation and the family experience.”

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Colorado Ski Country USA, the industry’s trade association in the state, is also downplaying, if not discouraging, the concept of ski-pot tourism. “We’re getting the word out that we have a lot of things to offer guests, but smoking marijuana is not one of them,” Colorado Ski Country USA’s Jennifer Rudolph told the Associated Press. “We have so much to offer our guests that outweigh the legality of possession of marijuana.”

As early as last January, the Vail Daily was reporting that there was a buzz on the streets of Vail, with tourists regularly inquiring about the possibility of smoking marijuana legally. But there are plenty of misconceptions about the marijuana business in Colorado. The biggest one is probably that towns will suddenly be overrun with people smoking weed; in fact, it’s only legal to smoke in private places, and only for adults ages 21 and up. “The bottom line is guests should not expect to smoke marijuana in public at a ski resort,” said Colorado Ski Country’s Rudolph.