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Officially Endorsed Or Not, Pot Tourism Has Staked Its Claim In Colorado

Stacy Nick
My420Tour guide Mike Metoyer leads a group through the grow facility for La Conte's Clone Bar and Dispensary.

As tourists amble down the halls of La Conte’s Clone Bar and Dispensary in Denver, it’s clear this isn’t your typical tour.

The buzz of fluorescent grow lights is as constant as the strong herbal scent coming from each of the plant-filled rooms. The tour group is a wide mix of ages, races and backgrounds.

They’ve all been brought together by one common thing: legal marijuana.

“It’s the most unique group of people you could ever imagine,” said Danny Schaefer, chief operating officer at Pioneer Industries, the owner of My420Tours. “You’ll have a 22-year-old kid sitting next to a 70-year-old lady from Indiana that’s sharing in this experience together.”

The experience of a My420Tour – touted as the nation’s first cannabis tourism company - typically includes stops at grow facilities and dispensaries. The company also arranges marijuana-friendly hotels where guests are provided with vaporizers so they can consume cannabis in their rooms.

That’s an important amenity for vacationing couple Alex and Amanda Lantz, visiting from Bentonville, Arkansas. They came to Colorado specifically for their first legal pot experience.

“It’s my birthday this weekend and we wanted to come up and have a good time and indulge in something safe legally and just enjoy the mountain town and see the sights,” Amanda said.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Amanda Lantz checks out the plants during a tour stop at a marijuana grow facility.

The young couple is also learning about advances in the cannabis industry.

“I’m really just interested in basically, just the reality of the industry, and how it’s become regulated and how it’s been integrated into the economy here,” she said.

The tour attendees all have lots of questions about the grow facility. How it’s run? What type of grow lights are used? One elderly woman, worried the plants look a little dry, asks about the amount of water the plants are getting. The facility’s cultivator explains that the plants are on a drip timer system and assures her that they are watered twice a day.

State tourism officials are also asking questions.

The results of a 2015 survey showed 65 percent of respondents said legalized marijuana played no role in their decision to come to Colorado. Twenty percent said it was part of the reason they came to the state, but not all of them reported actually purchasing cannabis.

“There’s a small group - maybe about 8 percent - who say it motivates them, they’ve come here specifically so that they can visit a marijuana dispensary,” said Colorado Tourism Director Cathy Ritter. “But for the large majority of travelers it’s a ho-hum issue.”

Ritter isn’t so sure that pot tourism is the state’s next big draw. She thinks it may lose its novelty as more states jump on the bandwagon.

“As legalization continues to spread across the country – and there are nine other states that are considering measures at this point - Colorado is not going to be such an outlier in that equation,” Ritter said.

As Colorado starts its third year for legalized sales, it’s clear that pot tourism is drawing in some people from all over the country. At the end of the grow facility tour – Danny Schaefer of My420 Tours took a quick survey. The tourists are from all over – Idaho, North Carolina, Virginia, and Puerto Rico. Most of them are making their first visit to Colorado and all of them say legal marijuana is why they did it.

Pot may be the reason these tourists came to Colorado – but Schaefer said they do try to make sure it’s not the only reason they come back.

“For a lot of individuals, it’s their first time coming to Colorado, never been to Denver before,” he said. “They know about the high country but as far as our city, they don’t have the first clue. And really through the expansion of the city it’s where we have a lot of fun and we can tell them – although it’s a small city in comparison, what it lacks in size it has in culture and show them the different aspects of our cool, cool city.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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