Ganja-preneurs create experiences that combine Colorado recreation and marijuana
The Summit Daily - 9/6/2016
When Joel Schneider first began doing business in Colorado, he wasn’t planning on entering the cannabis industry.
At the time, he was commuting back and forth from New York, managing several business ventures in Denver. Retail marijuana sales had recently been made legal in Colorado.
“I was living in a hotel, and I was blowing smoke — worried about getting in trouble — and realized that there was a disconnect,” he said. “You could purchase as much cannabis as you want, but there’s no place to enjoy it. I called my wife and said I have an idea for a new business.”
He and his wife, Lisa, launched their cannabis lodging business in April 2014 and, two years later, have four locations across the state. The group has Bud+Breakfast hotels in Silverthorne and Denver and ranch retreats in Colorado Springs and Grand County. All cater to folks wanting to make cannabis a part of their vacations while immersing themselves in mountain culture and enjoying the outdoors.
The Schneiders are among a small but dedicated group of ganja-preneurs looking to create an industry that is organic, high-end, customer-friendly and respectable in the same way other Colorado products, such as food and beer, have become.
“I see that there’s always going to be a need for canna-hospitality. There will be people traveling around who want to partake. But things could start changing. As other states open up, the tourism business will become diluted.”Joel Schneidercannabis lodging business owner
“We have the best agriculture in Colorado,” pointed out Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits, a high-end cannabis event company based in Summit County. “That includes the farm-to-table movement, craft beer and why not pot tourism?”
A MAIN ATTRACTION
There are dozens of pot tourism companies in the state, most catering to younger crowds. Few offer high-end experiences or target an older crowd.
Schneider’s properties integrate luxury accommodations, outdoor activities — such as all-terrain vehicle riding, hiking, horseback riding and yoga at the ranches — and a general mountain getaway experience. And, lest anyone think guests are holed up in their rooms getting stoned, he makes it clear his properties promote the social aspect of marijuana. Smoking isn’t allowed in guest rooms — instead, guests are encouraged to smoke in community spaces and join daily events such as Wake and Bake Breakfast and 420 Happy Hour.
The appeal is broad, and guests come from all over the world, he said.
“We think of ourselves as a beautiful bar or smoking club that only offers top-line foods, beer and wine. This is not the stoner mentality with some music and an old couch to sit on. We want it to be classy and an amazing experience,” he said.
Cultivating Spirits offers a similar experience in the form of food, wine and cannabis tours, where gourmet food, a dispensary tour and wine tasting are all rolled into one educational evening. In Vail and Summit counties, the company offers cannabis parties, helping people integrate pot into a fancy dinner party, bachelorette weekend or even a wedding.
Wolf, the company’s founder, said people are surprised to find that cannabis events can be extremely social and sophisticated.
“The enlightened conversations, conscious consumption and attentive appreciation of what we put in our bodies is what these pairing dinners provide. It is not fast food sitting on our couch not remembering what happened five minutes ago,” he said.
PART OF THE WELLNESS INDUSTRY
Colorado is quickly becoming a destination for health and wellness, and Regina Wells, of Durango Artisanal Tours, thinks pot tourism can be part of that industry.
The company, which launched in 2015, offers tour guiding and cannabis concierge services. Some of its most popular tours include a walking tour of downtown Durango, visits to several dispensaries, shopping for local artisan goods and lunch in a mountain setting. One of its fastest-growing events is the wellness tour, which introduces smokers to the health benefits of cannabis, along with a massage and hot tub soak.
Wells’ interest in the industry came from personal experience. After a health scare in her 40s, she had to look for a less physical occupation and discovered pot tourism.
“After my cancer scare, I started taking an interest in learning about cannabis and health. I was spending long hours on the computer finding out everything I could about its therapeutic effects. It was an eye-opener just how many folks out there were helping themselves and their loved ones with this awesome plant,” she said. “Legalization happened at the same time, so it was a perfect time to jump on in.”
Durango Artisanal Tours attracts a number of unlikely canna-curious customers who are interested in learning about the medicinal side of pot. They include ex-military looking for relief from post-traumatic stress disorder, a woman dealing with grief after losing her college-aged son and even a couple who came out West to administer cannabis oil to their young child who suffered from seizures.
“We even had a former police officer who really needed a chill break,” Wells said. “He was convinced that marijuana wasn’t the evil drug he was led to believe and wanted to learn more about it for health reasons. We were not sure what to expect from our guests at the beginning of this venture, but we have had the good fortune to really help people in need.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Some of these ventures are so successful that companies such as Cultivating Spirits are poised to expand. The company is set to move into other states that legalize marijuana, but Wolf also points out this means the Colorado pot scene will have some healthy competition.
“Canada and Nevada are likely going to come on board next year,” he said. “We’ll be approaching $1 billion in tourism this year, but we need to take ownership of that now because that money isn’t always going to be there.”
He wants to see the marijuana industry recognized as a driver for Colorado tourism and become part of the state’s official tourism strategy. That legitimacy will help consumers trust companies such as his own and help Colorado stay competitive when other states legalize marijuana.
Schneider agreed, saying he hopes more policies and authorities will become more friendly to pot tourism.
“I see that there’s always going to be a need for canna-hospitality,” he said. “There will be people traveling around who want to partake. But things could start changing. As other states open up, the tourism business will become diluted.”
Legal Weed Draws Tourists To Colorado, Washington, For 4/20 Marijuana Holiday
DENVER -- Thousands of people are expected to join an unofficial counterculture holiday celebrating marijuana in Colorado and Washington this coming weekend, including out-of staters and even packaged tours. The events and crowds will test the limits of new laws permitting pot use by adults.
More than 50,000 are expected to light up outdoors in Denver's Civic Center Park on April 20 to celebrate marijuana legalization. Thousands more are headed here for the nation's first open-to-all Cannabis Cup, April 20-21, a domestic version of an annual marijuana contest and celebration in Amsterdam. Expected guests at the Cannabis Cup, a ticketed event taking place inside the Denver Convention Center, include Snoop Lion, the new reggae- and marijuana-loving persona for the rapper better known as Snoop Dogg.
Marijuana activists from New York to San Francisco consider April 20 a day to celebrate the drug and push for broader legalization. The origins of the number "420" as a code for pot are murky, but the drug's users have for decades marked the date 4/20 as a day to use pot together.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and its sale without a doctor's recommendation isn't allowed yet in Colorado or Washington. Neither state allows open and public use of the drug. But authorities largely look the other way at public pot-smoking, especially at festivals and concerts, and entrepreneurs are finding creative ways to capitalize on new marijuana laws.
One of them is Matt Brown, co-owner of Denver's new "My 420 Tours," which gives traveling pot users everything but the drug. Brown has sold 160 tour packages to visiting pot smokers for the April 20 weekend. Prices start at $499, not including hotel or air.
The tour sends cannabis tour guides to pick up marijuana tourists at the airport in limousines, escort them to Cannabis Cup and other Denver-area marijuana celebrations and deposit them at a hotel where smoking – tobacco or reefer – is permitted on room patios.
Marijuana tourists on Brown's tour can add extra days of touring medical marijuana dispensaries and commercial growing operations. A cannabis cooking class is another option. Five-day tours run $649 to $849.
Brown, a medical marijuana patient who is new to the travel business, says his tours will enable sharing of pot but not selling it. Eighty percent of his clients are coming from outside Colorado – meaning it's illegal for them to bring marijuana from home. And because commercial pot sales in Colorado don't start until January, out-of-state visitors can't yet buy pot at Colorado's 500-plus dispensaries.
Despite the legal barriers, Brown said his tours quickly filled to capacity and he had to turn away would-be cannabis tourists. He's hoping to book future pot-themed weekends if the April 20n weekend does well.
"People are fascinated by what's happening here, and they want to see it up close," Brown said. "We want to make sure people don't come here, land at the airport, rent a car and drive around stoned all weekend."
The tour group isn't affiliated with the Cannabis Cup, sponsored by High Times Magazine, which has run similar events for medical marijuana in nine cities. The magazine's editorial director, Dan Skye, says this month's U.S. Cannabis Cup was timed for the April 20 weekend.
"4/20 is the national stoner holiday, for lack of a better word," Skye said. "It gets bigger every year, and this year, after the legalization votes, it's going to be absolutely huge."
The magazine planned to award Snoop Lion with a "lifetime achievement" award at a Denver ceremony Friday. A Cypress Hill/Slightly Stoopid concert was planned Saturday at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater just west of Denver. Both events sold out weeks ago.
A few dozen miles northwest of Denver, the University of Colorado in Boulder will try to dampen pot celebrations on April 20. The campus once held the nation's largest college 4/20 celebration, drawing an estimated 10,000 in 2010. The legendary smokeout was cited by Playboy magazine when it named Colorado the nation's top party school in 2011 .
After the Playboy mention, the university stepped up efforts to shut the celebration down. Campus officials last year roped off the site of the smokeout, Norlin Quadrangle, reducing the 4/20 crowd to a few hundred protesters. The school planned another shutdown Saturday.
Celebrations were planned in Washington state, too, though April 20 isn't as broadly celebrated as Seattle's annual Hempfest, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to a waterfront park every summer.
The April 20 celebrations in Washington included a Seattle party being put on by DOPE Magazine at an artist work space and studio. About 1,500 were expected for glassblowing demonstrations, music, dancing and a bar where revelers can vaporize their pot, plus the judging for the "DOPE Cup" – an award for the best bud. There will be a smoking tent set up outside, along with food trucks to combat any cases of the munchies.
"It's pretty monumental," said DOPE editor in chief James Zachodni. "This is the first time in the U.S. there's been a cannabis holiday with a legal aspect to it."
Back in Colorado, longtime pot user Andrew Poarch says this year's April 20 observations in Colorado have taken on epic significance. He's joining dozens of friends to hire a bus from Colorado Springs to attend Denver's Cannabis Cup.
"It's going to be a lot bigger, a lot more people," he predicted. "People are trying to outdo themselves because it's a party and a celebration. We beat prohibition. It's a pretty big deal."
Marijuana Tourism: Will Colorado Become America’s Amsterdam?
By Amir Khan isciencetimes.com
Marijuana tourism could become one of the premier tourist attractions alongside the great skiing in Colorado following the passing of the state's Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for personal growth and use.
The state legalized marijuana 54.7 percent to 45.2 percent through Amendment 64, which also puts into place a system of taxation and regulation similar to that on alcohol.
"The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly."
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But some people feel that Americans will flock to Colorado in an attempt to get high legally, as a sort of marijuana tourism. Some people have already dubbed the state "Aspendam"-- a play on Amsterdam, the Dutch city that features marijuana cafes.
Jennifer Rudolph, with the Colorado Ski Country USA, an organization that represents 21 Colorado ski resorts, said the are watching the situation closely.
"There's a lot that remains to be seen," she told the Associated Press. "I guess you could say we're waiting for the smoke to clear."
Betty Aldworth, advocacy director for the Colorado marijuana campaign, told the Associated Press that she hopes marijuana tourism becomes a big part of the state.
"Some folks might come to Colorado to enjoy some marijuana as will be their right," she said. "So what?"
Before the vote, "Visit Denver" CEO Richard Scharf said that legalizing marijuana may actually hurt tourism.
"Colorado's brand will be damaged, and we may attract fewer conventions and see a decline in leisure travel," he said in a statement.
But there already may be evidence that marijuana tourism can be a big draw.
"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," executive director Vivian McPeak told the AP. "It's reasonable to assume that people will travel to Washington assuming that the federal government doesn't interfere."
But whether or not marijuana tourism makes Colorado a destination spot, Al White, Colorado's tourism director, said he isn't worried.
"It won't be as big a deal as either side hopes or fears," he said.
Dutch fear threat to liberalism in "soft drugs" curbs
By Sara Webb reuters.com
Along with tighter control of legalized prostitution and a swing to the right in attitudes toward immigration and Islam in recent years, the clampdown is seen as further evidence of an erosion of tolerance in a country known for its liberal social policies.
The push to clamp down on soft drugs has come mainly from the Christian Democrats, the junior partner in the minority government and one of the larger parties in a fragmented political landscape.
"There's clearly a shift in the moral debate. It's all about the culture of control," said Dirk Korf, professor of criminology at the University of Amsterdam.
Instantly recognizable from the sickly sweet, burned-leaf smell that wafts out onto the street, the Netherlands' world-renowned "coffee shops" are almost as common as supermarkets in big cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam and in certain border towns.
Like trained sommeliers, the staff or "bud tenders" are experts on the flavors and after-effects of whatever is on the menu -- white widow, vanilla kush, or hazers like amnesia "known for its extreme, almost paranoid psychedelic high, with an unforgettable strong fruity taste and smell."
Counter staff do a brisk trade in plastic sachets of loose grass, ready-rolled joints and chunks of hashish for those who want take-away.
The Netherlands tolerates the sale of up to 5 grams per person per day of marijuana and hashish in the controlled environment of the coffee shops. It also tolerates the home cultivation of marijuana plants, within a limit of five plants per person, but any cultivation larger than that is illegal.
Strong demand has spawned secret cannabis plantations that provide a so-called back-door supply to the coffee shops and are a headache for Dutch authorities who have to find and raid them.
On a typical Saturday evening, the coffee shops in central Amsterdam are packed with smokers. The clientele is middle class, the voices mostly foreign -- Italian, Spanish, French, German, English.
Concerned about this influx of soft-drugs tourists, not to mention what it sees as the associated crime, nuisance and health risks, the Christian Democrat Party wants to see the country's 700 or so coffee shops shut down, but for the moment is settling for introducing restrictions on their activities.
A measure expected to be passed in parliament by the end of this year will have coffee shops operate as members-only clubs, meaning that only local residents will be eligible to register for "weed passes," effectively barring foreigners from buying soft drugs.
Already, some cities have introduced tighter restrictions, limiting the coffee shops' proximity to schools or relocating them to the outskirts. On October 1, coffee shops in the southeastern city of Maastricht banned all foreigners except for neighboring Germans and Belgians, as a first step toward introduction of weed passes.
Crime expert Korf says there is little justification for the clampdown, with scant evidence that the Dutch public supports the change.
"No serious polls have been conducted, we don't know if opinions about coffee shops have even changed," said Korf.
"Before coffee shops we had street dealing, they were selling marijuana in the street and ripping off tourists. The whole drug problem is nothing compared to (what we had in) the 1980s, 1990s -- we don't have a heroin problem."
The Trimbos Institute, which studies addiction and mental health, said 5 percent of Netherlands citizens smoked weed or hashish in the past year, against an EU average of 7 percent.
Policymakers around the world are seeking fresh ideas on how to combat drug abuse, opening up a debate on policies on soft drugs.
In June, a high-profile group of global leaders declared the "war on drugs" a failure and urged governments to consider decriminalizing drugs in order to cut consumption and weaken the power of organized crime.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy -- which includes former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and British billionaire Richard Branson -- said a decades-long strategy of outlawing drugs and jailing users while battling drug cartels had not worked.
It recommended that governments experiment with the legal regulation of drugs, especially cannabis, citing the successes in countries such as the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, where drug consumption had been reduced.
Portugal, for instance, has gone much further than the Netherlands by decriminalizing all drugs, replacing jail time with counseling and treatment.
The Christian Democrats disagree and say the Dutch policy has had a negative effect on public health and crime.
"In other countries there is no tolerance. The Dutch coffee shops attract a lot of foreign drug tourists, especially in the border region, causing much nuisance," according to a statement published on the Christian Democrat Party website.
The centrist party has cast doubt on the rationale for allowing coffee shops, which was to separate the soft and hard drugs markets, and said that people who smoke cannabis often turned to other drugs.
It also argues the active substance in cannabis is much stronger than twenty years ago, putting it on a par with harder drugs -- a reflection of years of cultivation of new varieties by growers.
A Dutch commission earlier this year found that hashish and marijuana on sale in the Netherlands contain about 18 percent of THC, the main psychoactive substance, and said a level above 15 percent put the drugs on a par with heroin or cocaine.
Maxime Verhagen, a Christian Democrat who is deputy prime minister, said on October 7 the government would ban the sale of cannabis whose concentration of THC exceeds 15 percent.
The Christian Democrats also want tougher regulations on the so-called cannabis plantations.
In addition to illegally supplying the coffee shops, "much of the illegally cultivated cannabis in the Netherlands is exported abroad. There is an extensive network illegally created in the grip of organized crime," the party said in its statement.
Dutch authorities already devote considerable resources to tracking down these large-scale plantations.
The police work with the local electricity company to detect unusual consumption patterns, for example round-the-clock usage in sheds and attics, and have used tiny sniffer-helicopters which can detect the smell of pot plants wafting from ventilation shafts and chimneys, according to media reports.
Rotterdam city council recently distributed "scratch and sniff cards" to households, hoping that concerned citizens would tip off the police if they recognized the smell of illegal cannabis plantations in the neighborhood.
PUSHBACK AT HOME
There is plenty of opposition to the crackdown. Dutch smokers do not welcome the idea of having to register for weed passes.
"Many of my customers are locals, artists, writers, doctors, lawyers, professionals. They don't want their name on a register -- they don't know who could see it or use it. So they may go to other sources on the street," said Paula Baten, manager of the Siberie coffee shop in central Amsterdam.
"This government is more Christian, more right-wing. They don't want drugs but they forget about the effects of alcohol."
Already, there's talk of how foreigners can circumvent the new rules, for example by asking Dutch citizens to buy soft drugs on their behalf to take away, and concern that dealing in soft drugs will go onto the street.
Some politicians oppose the proposals. Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam, says restricting the activities of coffee shops would lead to greater health risks, nuisance and drug dealing on the streets. As mayor, he could simply choose not to enforce the weed pass regulations.
"At the moment the mayor is in conference with the minister to convince him that the measures regarding coffee shops will be counterproductive for Amsterdam," the mayor's office said in a statement to Reuters.
Others cite the likely economic impact.
The Netherlands, like other European countries, has had to introduce austerity measures and cut spending in the wake of the credit crisis, when it pumped 40 billion euros into rescuing financial institutions.
Tax revenue from the coffee shops is estimated at about 400 million euros a year. Studies by the finance ministry and academics estimated that if the Netherlands legalized the "back-door" supply, bringing it "above board," it could collect as much as an additional 400-850 million euros a year, including savings on the cost of law enforcement.
Then there's the tourist revenue.
In Maastricht, which gets a lot of day tourists because it is so close to the German and Belgian borders, a study commissioned by an association of coffee shop owners calculated that visitors to the city's coffee shops spent about 119 million euros a year, mostly on shopping and eating out.
A study by Professor Korf of the University of Amsterdam found that tourists who visited coffee shops in central Amsterdam had similar spending habits to other tourists, and were just as likely to spend 200 euros or more on a hotel room, or splash out at smart restaurants or nightclubs.
The Bulldog and Barney's -- the big names in the industry -- run coffee shop chains, and many coffee shop owners also make money from lodgings and related businesses.
Hundreds of tourists attend the annual cannabis cup award for the best new strains, and the local edition of Time Out runs monthly weed reviews.
Jackie Woerlee, who runs customized cannabis tours, said that among her recent tour guests were members of one of the Middle East royal families who rented a luxury apartment for several weeks and spent several thousand euros shopping at luxury stores.
"Customers might easily spend 100 euros in a coffee shop, but it's not just that, it's the hotels, the eating out, renting apartments," Woerlee said. "These people spend."