April 4, 2013 at 10:33 AM ET
California has its wine tours; Kentucky, its Bourbon Trail. Could Colorado become the hot destination for adults who prefer Purple Haze to Pinot Noir and mint juleps?
Not so fast, Spicoli.
While the state’s Amendment 64 legalized recreational use of marijuana last November, the laws on cannabis commerce are still being worked out and aren’t expected to be resolved until early next year.
“The best analogy is to home-brewed beer,” said Richard Grant, communications director for Visit Denver, the city’s tourism marketing agency. “You can brew it and you can share it with friends but you can’t drink it out on the street and you can’t sell it.”
That’s good enough for Matt Brown and James Walker, a pair of Denver-based entrepreneurs who have developed travel packages for travelers who like to toke. Called My 420 Tours, the packages include lodging in pot-friendly hotels, tours of marijuana dispensaries and growing operations and admission to several cannabis-themed events and concerts.
“It’s an opportunity for people who prefer marijuana to alcohol to come to Colorado and know that they’re not going to have to walk around downtown asking strangers for pot,” said Brown.
The first — and so far only — packages are pegged to what Brown and Walker are calling World Cannabis Week (April 17–21) but, sorry Kumar, they’re already sold out.
Still, the tours offer a glimpse of what the future of pot tourism could look like. Since it’s still illegal to buy or sell pot for recreational use in Colorado, My 420 Tours introduces enthusiasts to local players already involved in the business of bud.
“What we’ve done is create an experience like a private happy hour where growers and cooks can bring what they’ve produced and share it with others,” Brown told NBC News. “We’re not going to pick you up at the airport and drop a Ziploc bag in your lap.”
Going forward, Brown sees all sorts of potential for pot tourism. He and Walker are hoping to put on three or four “tent-pole” events a year, such as concerts and festivals, and offer custom tours for groups with specific, pot-related interests, such as people with medical conditions and municipalities considering legalization back home.
The real test will come early next year when the state legislature formalizes the rules on retail marijuana sales. A task force has recommended that sales be allowed for both adult Colorado residents and out-of-state visitors but legislators have yet to decide.
Either way, Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver, who served on the task force, doesn’t foresee a sudden influx of potheads streaming toward the state.
“Tourism is already one of our biggest industries,” he said. “If there’s recreational adult use of marijuana, visitors will take advantage of it but I don’t see people coming here simply to purchase it.”
Brown says much the same, suggesting that pot will eventually become just another product that adults will be entitled to enjoy and should be able to purchase without fear of prosecution.
“Once retail stores come online next year, it’ll be a much easier endeavor,” he said. “You’ll be able to land, go to the liquor store or the weed store or both.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.