Washington's and Colorado's decisions to legalize recreational marijuana use have created a new, booming tourist industry for businesses and tax collections. Smokers who can't spark up in their home state without risking incarceration and a permanent black mark on their criminal record are flocking to the states where dispensaries are now legally allowed to sell weed to anyone of the right age with a valid ID.
Travel agencies and touring companies are even organizing special trips to tour the states' pot apothecaries complete with accommodations in a "smoke free" hotel where visitors can smoke their souvenirs in private since they can't bring it back with them. R.L. Moore Bus Tours of Dallas is offering just such a trip to Denver at the end of March. Tickets are $235, and according to the company's website, include hotel fees.
"Tours like that have started to take place and here in Dallas, we're one of the first take those tours to Colorado," owner R.L. Moore said.[jump]
A group of local tokers will board a charter bus in Dallas on March 27 and arrive in Denver a day later followed by a three-day tour of four marijuana dispensaries. Moore said he's always trying to dream up unique trip ideas and an article about Denver's recreational dispensaries caught his eye and curiosity. He came up with his trip idea after calling some of the dispensaries to find out exactly how they worked.
"They also get to see the city while they're there," Moore said. "For this trip, I was going to take them to Pike's Peak and different places like that but on this trip, I decided just to do dispensaries because they are going to have a lot of free time. I think the trip will give them the chance to see a lot of the city just by going to the dispensaries."
Elan Nelson, the business, strategy and development consultant for the Medicine Man Denver dispensary, said they've usually had tour groups visit the shop every other day since they've been able to sell marijuana for recreational purposes.
In fact, Nelson noted that most of her out of town clientele come from Texas, according to anecdotal surveys by the guards who check customers' IDs before they enter the store.
"Since day one on January 1, more than half of the people purchasing marijuana recreation are from out of state or out of the country," Nelson said. "That was a big surprise. I wasn't expecting it to be that high."
Of course, any marijuana purchased in Denver becomes illegal as soon as it crosses the Colorado state line. Moore admits that he had a "semi-concern" about one of his customers bringing home a treat from the trip. That's why all travelers must sign a waiver clearing his company from any responsibility if they are caught carrying marijuana outside of Colorado.
"We're also going to make sure that all the luggage is tagged with their names and addresses," Moore said. "I think that would be a good deterrent."
So far, Moore said the response to his Denver marijuana run has been overwhelmingly favorable.
"People love it," Moore said. "They think it's a great idea."
Nelson said she expects her business to grow as more states' residents begin to question the futility of criminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, something that even Texas Governor Rick Perry publicly questioned.
"This whole industry has a forward momentum to it," Nelson said. "More states seem to be accepting because they look at states that have medical or, in our case, recreational [marijuana] and they see that the sky hasn't fallen and there's no 'reefer madness' or chaos in the streets.
"Certainly people are seeing that it is very much safer than alcohol, so why is one substance banned and the other legal and promoted at such large events?" Nelson added. "If Texas is interested, Texas should really start to ask those questions."