Tell someone you’re planning to travel to Colorado, and these days you’re likely to get a very familiar reaction: a sly grin, a chuckle, a wink, all followed by, “Are you going to get some of that stuff while you’re there?” If you’re not sure what “that stuff” is referring to, we’re talking about cannabis. You know, marijuana, or weed. You can’t ignore it these days; part of Colorado’s appeal in modern times is how easy it is for anyone—whether they have a medical reason or are recreational users—to buy marijuana anywhere in the state. The question, though, is after you buy it … then what?
Seems like a no-brainer—you’re going to smoke it. But where are you going to smoke it? How are you going to transport it around legally? Can you take what you bought with you back to the state where you reside without breaking the law? These are all questions that anyone traveling to Colorado for cannabis tourism need to consider before booking their trip.
Here’s the 411 on the 420 situation: Recreational sales of cannabis became legal in Colorado in 2014. Just the sale of it became legal, not the use of it in public because that remains illegal. Cannabis tourists are trapped in a conundrum: Buy as much as you’d like, but don’t expect to find any fewer restrictions in Colorado that will allow you to freely smoke it any differently than you would in your own home state without legal ramifications.
When asked about this booming tourism industry, Jeremy Bamford, CEO and founder of PotGuide.com, wanted to define who these tourists typically are: “What’s a cannabis tourist? A lot of people have a lot of misconceptions. Your typical cannabis tourist is between [the ages of] 30 and 60 and generally well educated. You have a lot of casual users who’ve booked their trip to Colorado [and] are curious—they’re Canna-curious. They come out here and they’re probably planning a trip out to the mountains and plan to do normal things like skiing, hiking, and camping but they kind of want to experience it and see what this whole thing is about—and that’s probably the most prevalent type of marijuana tourist.”
According to Bamford, official records of cannabis tourists as opposed to Colorado residents aren’t kept, so it’s hard to tell just how big this new tourism industry is, but the mountain towns like Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge typically have more traffic in the cannabis dispensaries and stores. “Early on, 80 percent of their sales were coming from out-of-state people,” said Bamford. He also shared that in September 2015, it was reported that Colorado sold $1 million worth of legal marijuana. Take into account that the state’s population is around 5.5 million (including kids), so if you were to do the math, you can easily see that a lot of the sales are coming from tourists and people from out of state.
Bamford points out that while there haven’t been many issues with legalizing the sale of cannabis, there has been one issue that plagues cannabis tourists specifically: where you can smoke it. The law in Colorado states that you’re not allowed to consume it publicly or openly and it’s vaguely written, allowing different cities within the state to interpret the law as they see fit. For example, Denver has a very restrictive approach, so there are no public places or clubs where you can openly smoke the marijuana you purchase. You can smoke it in a private residence, which you likely won’t have if you’re a tourist, or you can attempt to smoke it in your hotel room, which probably doesn’t allow any type of smoking to begin with. In the end, if you want to smoke cannabis, you’re still forced to break the law in many cases.
One way tourists get around this legal issue is to experiment with foods made with cannabis but even this comes with consequences. While it’s user friendly, the effects of eating it are a lot different than the effects from smoking it. It could take a lot longer to kick in, and the effects can last longer when consumed through food. Many tourists aren’t educated on the amount that’s safe to consume, resulting in unexpected visits to the emergency room.
With cannabis also being viewed as something to be consumed socially, another issue facing the cannabis tourism industry is the lack of social clubs or lounges that will allow users to use and consume the substances in public. Many laws currently prohibit the creation of social clubs and lounges where people can legally smoke marijuana in public, and Bamford believes the next battle will be to get more of these clubs created that are both upscale and sophisticated. This, Bamford’s view, will help settle many tourists’ issue of not having a place to openly use the marijuana they’ve purchased.
Another piece of advice for cannabis tourists: Don’t be the kid in the candy store. Buy what you need and not all that you want or think you want. A lot of people will buy more than they can use during their visit to Colorado and will end up leaving it in their hotel rooms or in their rental cars. No, you cannot take marijuana with you on the plane to your home state. If the TSA agents at Denver International Airport catch you with cannabis, most will refer you to a state officer who will ask you to dispose of it, and you could also end up with a parting gift in the form of a $100 ticket if they find it on you. Don’t think you will easily get away with transporting marijuana across state lines via car either. Law enforcement in neighboring states has been known to crack down and be on the lookout for those traveling from Colorado and marijuana-friendly states. In other words, don’t buy in excess, use what you buy while you’re in Colorado, and respect the laws—both those of Colorado and those of your home state.
Need more relaxation? Try some hot springs in Colorado!