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Marijuana plants flourish under the lights at a grow house in Denver in 2012. State regulators are in the process of creating licensing rules ahead of retail sales scheduled to begin in January. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Pot votes in Colorado, Washington raise specter of weed tourism
First Published Nov 09 2012 10:37 am • Last Updated Nov 09 2012 10:41 am

Denver • Hit the slopes — and then a bong?

Marijuana legalization votes this week in Colorado and Washington state don’t just set up an epic state-federal showdown on drug laws for residents. The measures also open the door for marijuana tourism.

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Both marijuana measures make marijuana possession in small amounts OK for all adults over 21 — not just state residents but visitors, too. Tourists may not be able to pack their bowls along with their bags, but as long as out-of-state tourists purchase and use the drug while in Colorado or Washington, they wouldn’t violate the marijuana measures.

Of course, that’s assuming the recreational marijuana measures take effect at all. That was very much in doubt Friday as the states awaited word on possible lawsuits from the U.S. Department of Justice asserting federal supremacy over drug law.

So the future of marijuana tourism in Colorado and Washington is hazy. But that hasn’t stopped rampant speculation, especially in Colorado, where tourism is the No. 2 industry thanks to the Rocky Mountains and a vibrant ski industry.

The day after Colorado approved recreational marijuana by a wide margin, the headline in the Aspen Times asked, "Aspendam?" referring to Amsterdam’s marijuana cafes.

Colorado’s tourism director, Al White, tried to downplay the prospect of a new marijuana tourism boom.

"It won’t be as big a deal as either side hopes or fears," White said.

Maybe not. But many are asking about marijuana tourism.

Ski resorts are "certainly watching it closely," said Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association that represents 21 Colorado resorts.


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Any plans for an adults-only après lounge where skiers could get more than an Irish coffee to numb their aches?

"There’s a lot that remains to be seen," Rudolph said with a chuckle. "I guess you could say we’re waiting for the smoke to clear."

The Colorado counties where big ski resorts are located seem to have made up their minds. The marijuana measure passed by overwhelming margins, with more support than in less visited areas.

The home county of Aspen approved the marijuana measure more than 3-to-1. More than two-thirds approved marijuana in the home county of Colorado’s largest ski resort, Vail. The home county of Telluride ski resort gave marijuana legalization its most lopsided victory, nearly 8 in 10 favoring the measure.

"Some folks might come to Colorado to enjoy some marijuana as will be their right. So what?" said Betty Aldworth, advocacy director for the Colorado marijuana campaign.

Washington state already sees a version of marijuana tourism.

Every summer on the shores of the Puget Sound, Seattle is host to "Hempfest," which according to organizers attracted around 250,000 people over three days this year. For those three days, people are largely left alone to smoke publically at a local park, even as police stand by.

"People travel to Seattle from other states and countries to attend Seattle Hempfest every year to experience the limited freedom that happens at the event," said executive director Vivian McPeak. "It’s reasonable to assume that people will travel to Washington assuming that the federal government doesn’t interfere."

McPeak draw parallels to Amsterdam where an annual "Cannabis Cup" attracts tourists from all over the world and Vancouver, British Columbia, which has lax marijuana rules that have borne marijuana cafes drawing travelers.

Amsterdam’s marijuana tourism is in a hazy spot these days, though. The incoming Dutch government suggested a national "weed pass" that would have been available only to residents and that would have effectively banned tourists from Amsterdam’s marijuana cafes. The "weed pass" idea was scrapped, but under a provisional governing pact unveiled last week, Dutch cities can bar foreigners from weed shops if they choose.

In Denver, some feared that the Colorado marijuana vote could deter tourists, not to mention business visitors.

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