As Durango and La Plata County prepare to end moratoriums on recreational marijuana shops in July, many are wondering how legalizing it will affect tourism.
The message from other cities around Colorado: perhaps not much.
Telluride, the nearest Colorado city to have recreational pot shops, has had little visible impact, locals said.
Pot tourism is “not even a blip on the radar” so far, said Michael Martelon, president and CEO of Telluride Tourism Bureau. “People are not going to take a trip for marijuana,” he said.
Telluride has had legal recreational pot since Jan. 1.
A Telluride hotelier said guests often are curious.
“Definitely once people get into town, we are queried at the front desk where one can purchase marijuana here in town,” said Ray Farnsworth, general manager of the New Sheridan Hotel.
It’s unclear, he said, if guests are coming for marijuana alone.
“It definitely is something we’re dealing with, but I don’t know I can say we have additional tourism due to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado here in Telluride,” he said.
Crested Butte, which allows sales of recreational marijuana in shops, is still trying to adapt to that kind of business.
“It’s too early to project how that is going to financially impact our communities,” said Pamela Loughman, executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association.
The tourism association is not promoting marijuana-themed trips.
“There are a lot of different tourism (and) vacation options,” Loughman said. “That is one niche, and we embrace them all.”
Neighboring states watch
In Durango, much of the discussion has been about the location of pot shops. In a survey conducted by the Business Improvement District, merchants were evenly split about whether retail marijuana stores should be allowed downtown. The organization opted not to take a position.
The City Council and Board of County Commissioners are expected to enact regulations governing recreational pot shops by June 30, when their moratoriums on recreational pot sales end.
Bruce Moss, president of Gateway Reservations in Durango, said the vacation-package business has not “had any inquiries yet to speak of” for marijuana-related trips.
Moss said it’s too soon to know what will be the impact of legalized marijuana on Durango tourism.
Community leaders are expecting some increase in visits from residents of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – neighboring states with much-stricter marijuana laws. Durango could see more out-of-state visitors because the city is more accessible to neighboring states compared with Telluride or Crested Butte.
“I think you’ll see an initial influx as it first becomes legal, only because there’s still novelty associated with it,” said County Commissioner Bobby Lieb. “Once the novelty wears off, it’ll become more of a standard consumer purchase for those folks who like to smoke or ingest marijuana products.”
Lieb and others expect any rush of marijuana-related tourism to be short-lived as more states loosen marijuana laws.
“Colorado and Washington were the first, but I still believe you’ll start to see the dominoes fall,” Lieb said.
Tourists draws not pot-friendly
Where exactly is one supposed to consume marijuana?
That question is largely unanswered by Amendment 64, the Colorado ballot measure that led to legal marijuana. Colorado law explicitly bars smoking or consuming marijuana in dispensaries and retail shops. Hotels and motels uniformly have no-smoking policies, and those apply no matter what type of leaf guests prefer to burn.
Tourists who come to Colorado to buy recreational marijuana also are prevented from traveling with it. Taking marijuana out of the state is illegal, even if you’re traveling to another legal-marijuana state.
Kirk Komick, owner of Leland House and Rochester Hotel, said he is happy marijuana policy has advanced, and said Durango likely will see some bump in tourism. But don’t expect to smoke in one of his rooms.
“Yeah, we’re a nonsmoking hotel,” he said.
The lack of legal locations to smoke a bowl would seem to throw a stem in the possibilities for marijuana tourism.
“It’s not legal to smoke in public,” Lieb said. “Much of tourism ... revolves around a social activity. There’s little or no ability for someone who doesn’t have a private setting to partake. I think that’s going to be a major inhibitor.”
Of course, visitors with accommodating friends or relatives who live in Durango could find themselves with a pot-friendly host. And the increasing prevalence of vacation-home rentals may play a role. One Durango-area farmhouse is advertised as “4/20 friendly” on the vacation-rental website Airbnb. Attempts to reach the owner for comment were unsuccessful.
Durango’s main tourist draws also have limits on how accommodating they can be to pot tourists. Mesa Verde National Park is federal land, where pot remains prohibited. So is Durango Mountain Resort, which leases skiable acres from the U.S. Forest Service.
Then there’s the train. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad plans to run a craft-beer train Saturday to celebrate local beers like Colorado Kolsch. But don’t expect a train ride to feature weed strains like “Super Lemon Haze” and “Master Kush” anytime soon.
“We have no plans to offer any pot-themed trains,” said railroad spokeswoman Andrea Seid. “Our train rides are nonsmoking, and that also applies to marijuana.”