At the Bud+Breakfast at the Adagio, which bills itself as a cannabis-friendly lodge, visitors to Colorado looking to get a whiff of the local weed scene can wake up to the smell of pot wafting through the foyer and dining rooms of what have become known as "bud-and-breakfasts." Mornings begin with a "wake and bake," where guests sample marijuana strains before scoffing down a traditional three-course breakfast. Afternoons can be spent unwinding with a THC-infused massage or lighting a joint at the lodge's 4:20 p.m. happy hour.
The hotel is part of Colorado's budding weed tourism industry that seeks to serve out-of-towners looking to get high. But nearly two years after recreational pot sales became legal across the state in January 2014, state tourism officials have continued to downplay Colorado's weed tourism, with some officials going as far as to deny the lure of cannabis culture — against all evidence.
The resistance has some pot business owners exasperated. They claim tourism offices that refuse to market Colorado's weed-themed attractions are doing taxpayers a disservice and missing an opportunity to give the state a competitive edge this season as travelers start to research ski destinations.
"The big reason people stay is for what we offer," said Joel Schneider, CEO of the Mary Jane Group, which owns three lodges converted in 2014 to B&Bs. "If cannabis wasn't a draw, they wouldn't be coming to pay the higher rates."
Already a Big Draw
Cannabis tourism is already a big draw for many Colorado visitors. A Colorado Tourism Office survey released last week showed 48 percent of summer travelers were influenced by legal recreational pot -- even thought the state's $4.5 million tourism ad campaign promoting sprawling backcountry, hot springs and rugged mountains makes no mentions of local marijuana laws.
Despite the study's findings, state tourism offices remain unconvinced legal cannabis is contributing to the state's record-setting $18.6 billion tourism revenue, up 7.4 percent from 2013, also a record-setting year. Roughly 7 million out-of-state travelers visit for the state's ski season, out of a total of 71.3 million visitors annually. “Right now I wouldn’t say there would be a compelling argument, even if it were legal, for the Colorado Tourism Office to target the traveler because it’s such a small segment,” Director Cathy Ritter told the Denver Business Journal. “And it carries as many negatives as it does positives.”
Critics of advertising Colorado as a stoner haven said any remaining stigma associated with pot smoking could infringe on the state's family-friendly reputation. Marijuana lounges are still illegal in the state, with consumption limited to private homes and hotels, and cannabis-friendly accommodations are difficult to come by. Inquiries about weed retail remain few and far between, according to the Colorado Tourism Office.
"The Colorado Tourism Office does not receive many calls regarding the state's marijuana laws, and we have not seen an increase in calls since marijuana's legalization in Colorado," spokeswoman Carly Holbrook said in an email.
As far as spliffs and ski lifts go, visitors should be aware that marijuana-use and ski travel are not compatible or legal on the slopes, Holbrook said. "As a top ski destination, Colorado has a lot to offer guests, but smoking marijuana at ski resorts is not something that is offered," Holbrook said in an email. "In spite of the passage of Amendment 64, public consumption of marijuana continues to be illegal under Colorado law and ski areas are public places. Marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law. It is also a violation of the Colorado Ski Safety Act to participate in skiing or snowboarding, or even to board a lift, when impaired by a controlled substance."
Hordes of Visitors
But that hasn't stopped hordes of visitors from boarding smoke-filled buses that host the state's nascent marijuana tours, shuttling tourists from cannabis dispensaries to grow farms. One Denver company, My 420 Tours, often packs buses with out-of-state visitors, ranging from 22-year-old college students to 70-year-old retirees, for the "smoke sesh" and snacks on "munchie tours," or the "mile high wellness tour," where experts explain the health benefits of cannabis.
"I think it is irresponsible to not embrace people willing to provide that education," said Danny Schaefer, chief operating officer of My 420 Tours. "We're providing a service to the state and it's frustrating as a business owner for the tourism office to not embrace that aspect of the industry."
Visit Denver, the state capital's official tourism agency, declined to comment on marijuana in any context to International Business Times. The organization receives 2.75 percent of the lodger's tax in the city and county -- funding it likely does not want to jeopardize.
Heidi Keyes, co-owner of Colorado Cannabis Tours in Denver, said Visit Denver is threatened by the muscle of the cannabis tourism industry. The tour company attracts baby boomers and bachelorette parties eager to toke up.
"Marijuana companies have been able to move on without their support," Keyes said. "They are kind of turning obsolete at this point and if they are not willing to move into the future and accept the people who will, they will be pushed out of the scene."
Keyes, who also co-owns Denver's Puff Pass and Paint, which hosts painting classes where smoking stimulates mind-altered artistry, said Visit Denver does not appear to be welcoming of pot-users."It's almost is like a bigoted approach to marijuana," Keyes said. "They are judging people. You can't alienate these people just because they're marijuana users."
A Quiet Embrace
Despite the controversy, some local tourism boards have quietly begun to embrace the state's growing market for weed tourism. In Breckenridge, a quaint skiing town tucked amid vast Rocky Mountain terrain, tourists make time between ski runs to visit the town's stretch of weed dispensaries. Representatives from the Breckenridge Tourism Office said they are happy to provide information to travelers interested in the town's cannabis culture, or send them in the direction of the weed dispensaries.
"The retail shops are clustered together," said Lucy Kay, CEO of the Breckenridge Tourism Office. "We have information in our welcome center, as we do with any kind of retail available. There are a lot of marijuana information sites on the web and I think those are good sources to look at."
But there are limitations that hold the office back from promoting the local cannabis retail through more visible means, such as billboards or on the website, because of federal regulations, Kay said. "We can't advertise out of state," she said. "Most of the people visiting are from outside of Colorado."
Some professionals in the marijuana industry, however, say there are avenues tourism officials could take to support cannabis retail, but do not. The tourism office could work with more hotels, which are legally permitted to host pot smokers, and the chains' national directors to adopt 420-friendly policies.
Matt Appleseed, of High Country Cannabis Tours, said that in Denver finding accommodations that allow pot smoking can be a challenge for visitors. Among its services, which include high-end tours and marijuana cooking classes, High Country Cannabis Tours works to connect visitors with local hotel venues, which often do not advertise marijuana policies on their sites.
"I think that the fear is that a marijuana-friendly reputation could damage business for non-marijuana-related industries," Appleseed said. "For example, hotels in downtown Denver will all tell you that they are not cannabis-friendly, yet at least one such place was the 'official hotel' for a prominent cannabis event last year."
The greatest challenges for tourists looking to light up come from within state borders.
"Our biggest obstacles, unfortunately, may be our own neighbors," Appleseed said.