How Marijuana Is Breaking Into the Luxury Tourism Market
When I walked through the front door of Native Roots — a high-end dispensary in Denver, Colorado — a young woman at the front desk directed me to the showroom. I had never been to a marijuana dispensary before, but this was not what I expected. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a fancy tea house or hip café, except the fragrance that filled the air was that of pot, not coffee.
“What can I help you with?” asked the so-called “bud-tender,” when he finished assisting other guests. I was at a loss; I had no idea what I needed help with. Sensing my hesitation, the bud-tender began to patiently explain the different varieties he had available, stopping to let me appreciate the scent of each.
In January of 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis. Although it has been legal for medicinal use in some states since 1996, this step toward the normalization of recreational cannabis began to pave the way for an entirely new movement in the United States. Today, 33 states have legalized cannabis use either medically or recreationally. And earlier this month, Hawaii lawmakers approved a bill that may make their state next in line to join the bandwagon. New York, New Jersey and Illinois are also contenders for potential cannabis legalization in 2019.
But as states hurry to catch with Colorado, Oregon and California, the US is still lagging behind in a global legal movement. In Canada, cannabis has been federally legal for recreational use since 2018, and in Uruguay, it's been legal since 2013.
While the US may not be on the forefront of federal cannabis reform, it is (along with Canada) on the forefront of another new wave: luxury pot tourism. States such as Colorado and California are using their new legislation to grow a budding industry around pot tourism. Basically, cannabis is no longer a seedy basement drug. Instead, it’s shifting in the direction of craft beers and artisanal wines.
“I think that people will be surprised [with] how advanced manufacturing has become and the high quality of products that are available on the consumer market now,” David Mack, vice president of public affairs for a California-based cannabis delivery service called Eaze, told TPG.
Mack explained how California has implemented stringent regulations on pesticides and other chemicals used during the growing process, as well as dialed in dosage amounts so that consumers can have full control over their experience.
“People’s interaction with cannabis in the past few decades was really a much more fluid thing, where your experience could vary based on the products you got and how you consumed [them]. Now, the amount of control that a consumer has and the amount of trust that they can place in these manufactured, well-tested and well-regulated products is really the biggest revolution that consumers will see.”
Eaze recently partnered with a Napa Valley-based dispensary called Fumé, allowing users to have a cannabis product delivered to their door as easily as a pizza. Wine and weed tours are also popping up across the state.
Participants of Cannabis Tours’ Wine and Weed Tour, for example, ride aboard a cannabis and consumption-friendly limo bus and enjoy wine tastings and cannabis samplings at wineries and dispensaries around California’s Bay Area.
The tourism industry is busy capitalizing on the new cannabis craze. Tour operators in states that are on the forefront of this movement — such as Colorado, California, Washington and Oregon — are offering tours and classes, from cannabis-friendly guided fishing trips and coffee tours to “puff, pass and paint” or cannabis cooking classes. Emerald Farm Tours in San Francisco offers a variety of cannabis-based tours, like their limo excursion that takes participants to various cannabis retail lounges around the city. The Colorado-based My 420 Tours even offers a sushi and joint-rolling class.
Lucy Rose, the founder of lifestyle cannabis blog “Greenlove Denver" told TPG how that particular class was about way more than just getting high and eating sushi.
“We learned the proper knife techniques, sushi history and more about the ingredients we would commonly see in sushi,” Rose said. “The rolling of sushi was easier than the joint.”
And in Las Vegas, the first interactive pot superstore, called Planet 13, opened in November. Visitors to this massive 110,000 square-foot establishment, located just off the main strip, will interact with lights and laser graffiti before walking across an LED interactive floor, making their way to the dispensary section of the shop.
“I think in order to be at the leading edge [of the cannabis movement], you have to be innovative and you have to build facilities that are designed to attract customers and keep them there,” said Bob Groesbeck, co-CEO of Planet 13. “That is what Las Vegas is about.”
But an additional layer to the cannabis revolution was recently introduced. In December 2018, congress finalized the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalizes the production of hemp under specific regulations. The legislation defines hemp as a cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC (the intoxicating compound of cannabis). Cannabidiol (CBD) — a nonintoxicating compound often used to decrease anxiety, depression, inflammation and other ailments — is produced from hemp, and is now becoming widely available in states across the country.
At the Zenbarn in Waterbury, Vermont, visitors enjoy CBD-infused cocktails paired with a CBD aioli-topped burger, or a garden salad with CBD dressing. And in states like Colorado, dispensaries are offering low-THC and high-CBD tinctures and edibles.
Nick Brogna, the director of retail for My 420 Tours, began using CBD products in 2010 to help manage anxiety, and with great success.
“If an anxiety disorder is like having a marching band playing in the middle of your head nonstop, CBD, for me, is like a good set of ear plugs,” Brogna told TPG. “You're still aware the commotion is there, but you're a lot more able to tune it out.”
Brogna also explained how a CBD-infused coffee sold by his local coffee shop allows him to enjoy his caffeinated beverages in a more relaxed way — without the jittery effect that caffeine often has.
While many tour operators, hotels, restaurants and bars are embracing marijuana's booming popularity and conventionality, one fact remains: cannabis, unlike hemp, is still federally illegal. Understandably, state tourism boards tend to shy away from promoting cannabis as a reason to visit, and travelers often find themselves uncertain of the rules when traveling with pot souvenirs (short answer: it's still better if you don't).
But as the movement progresses, we'll likely see the travel sector employing new, innovative ways to leverage cannabis to promote tourism. “All across America, the conversation is not ‘if’ or ‘should we’ incorporate cannabis,” said Mack, “but how and what’s the best way to incorporate cannabis.”
Illustrations by Craig & Karl