Recreational marijuana shops won’t open their doors in Colorado until January and already several pot tourism companies are making plans to cash in on the new businesses.
There’s still uncertainty about how many people will come to the state for pot vacations.
After the federal government said it wouldn’t stand in the way of Colorado’s new recreational marijuana law, Jeannie Barresi decided to switch gears and launched her tour company called “Get Elevated.”
“People are going to come to Colorado. Lets provide a safe and organized way for them to come to the state and enjoy what’s available to them,” said Barresi, who has a background working as an international tour guide for the travel industry.
Barresi and her business partner will kick of the inaugural tour over the New Year’s holiday, to celebrate the country’s first retail marijuana stores. It’ll be a five night inclusive package based in Denver at a cost of $1500 per person – Barresi says Get Elevated aims to cater to a mature crowd.
“Professionals who understand the value of an organized program, the value of special VIP events,” Barresi said.
Get Elevated isn’t alone; My 420 Tours became the nation’s first pot tourism company when they opened their doors in 2013.
“What we really do is help people experience the future, is how it feels,” said Matt Brown, the co-owner of My 420 Tours.
Brown has been part of the medical marijuana community for the last decade and says he smokes pot every day to help manage his Crohn’s disease. So far Brown’s company has hosted one tour. It included visiting a medical marijuana dispensary, a cooking with marijuana class, sightseeing, and touring a grow operation.
“The only way we’ve been able to do tours of grows or any licensed facility is my partner and I both have been in the industry since it really started here in Colorado, and have a lot of connections and friends and good relationships,” said Brown. “Even then it’s still it’s so difficult to get people’s mindset to change and see there’s a value in showing the public that the way we regulate marijuana in Colorado and grow marijuana is aboveboard.”
Changing attitudes to make marijuana more open is just one challenge.
Julie Postlethwait with the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division says there are strict laws in place. For instance, an employee of a pot store or grow operation must escort any guests, and there’s a limit of five guests per employee.
“I do know that many of the cultivators are very good at their jobs and they are very protective of their plans, which are quite fragile,” Postlethwait said. “So I would think it would be somewhat limited in the number of cultivations that would allow them access.”
Right now there’s nothing to stop pot tourism businesses from expanding beyond Colorado says 27-year-old Zay Copa. He’s from Miami, Florida and came to Colorado last spring with My 420 tours.
Copa owns a travel business and says he plans to try and market the tours in his region of the country.
“Seeing the amount of money that’s going to be made with tourism, it’s crazy,” Copa said. “Just because the movement is so awesome, just to get the exposure so other states see, they legalized it, they’re actually making money. “
Pot tourism companies say there’s a great demand for all things marijuana related. One of the country’s largest trade show for glass, vaporizers and other paraphernalia held its first convention in Denver.
Eric Chou, a glass manufacturer from Los Angeles, thinks legalization will open up new markets.
“It’s bringing a lot of competition out,” Chou said. “It’s good in a way because you always need competition or you get lazy. Because you know someone is right on your tail, you step up your game, and that’s the best for the consumers.”
It’s still unclear if Colorado’s legalization of marijuana will be a turn off for some visitors and businesses. The state’s tourism office says it plans to collect data on whether marijuana affects people’s travel decisions.
Director Al White says he thinks legalization ultimately won’t have a big impact.
“Some won’t come and some will come. It’s not going to a decision maker for most people,” White said.
But for others there may be a new allure to coming to visit the Mile High City.