A new law that makes cannabis legal in the US states of Washington and Colorado has raised concerns about the door to cannabis tourism being opened. These are the first states to legalise the possession of pot for recreational use. This means that adults over the age of 21 can carry small amounts of marijuana. This applies to visitors as well, permitting they purchase and use the weed while in Washington or Colorado.
However, there’s a chance the laws won’t be put into effect, pending the US Department of Justice asserting federal supremacy over the decision. Voters in both states are concerned the department will exert its authority over the new legislations, which would actively suppress the people’s will. President Barack Obama hasn’t indicated that he will restrain the department’s controversial drug-enforcement tactics. Many lobbyists see this as a betrayal – particularly since he’s a politician who called for a rethink on the stigma surrounding cannabis at one time.
While there are concerns about weed tourism, Washington already sees a version of this. About 250,000 people are attracted to Hempfest on the shores of the Puget Sound in Seattle, a major coastal seaport for the state. During the festival’s three days, people are left alone to smoke pot in public – even though police are around. Vivian McPeak, the executive director of the festival, says that it’s reasonable to assume people will visit Washington with the perception the federal government won’t interfere.
Tourism is the second most important industry in Colorado. Counties across the state where there are big ski resorts passed the matter with overwhelming margins. In Aspen, the vote was more than three to one, while over two-thirds of the people in Vail (the state’s biggest ski resort) voted in favour of the legalisation.
This was revealed after the Breckenridge ski resort conducted its own experiment for the legalisation of marijuana. Voters in the city approved an ordinance that decriminalised the possession of small amounts of weed. The police changed their focus accordingly, and spokesperson Kim Green says the results weren’t very shocking. They didn’t find a big increase in arrests of visitors compared to residents. This could be partially because local weed dispensaries can only sell to people with Colorado IDs.
However, Green added that there was a reaction after the city’s stance was relaxed, with potential visitors threatening to take their business somewhere else. Officials received a number of communications from tourists who said they wouldn’t go to Breckenridge on holiday anymore. She’s sure some people in the community felt like the ordinance affected the town’s nature.
Al White, the Colorado’s tourism director, has tried downplaying the potential of a new weed tourism boom. He says this won’t be as big of an issue as anyone fears or hopes. Trade association Colorado Ski Country USA’s Jennifer Rudolph says that ski resorts in the state are closely watching developments. Much is still to be seen on the matter, and she thinks they are waiting for the smoke to lift. Colorado marijuana campaign advocacy director Betty Aldworth added that she doesn’t know what the problem is for some people to have the right to visit Colorado to enjoy some weed.
However, Visit Denver chief executive Richard Scharf says that the state’ brand will be damaged by the change. They may see a decline in leisure tourism and attract fewer conventions. Even Governor John Hickenlooper is opposed to the measure, but he said after the passage that he doesn’t see cannabis tourism coming to fruition. It seems unlikely to him that people will visit the state to take marijuana home with them.