Do marijuana sales drive tourism, or do established tourist destinations simply generate more revenue because they’re already prepared to handle marijuana-minded visitors? The answer is somewhere in between.
There’s no doubt about it: The legal marijuana industry is booming. Despite the fact that cannabis is still technically illegal in all forms in 20 states and at the federal level, the legal pot business raked in nearly $9 billion in sales last year — a figure that’s projected to reach $21 billion by 2021.
In addition to this mountain of revenue — and its associated taxes — legal marijuana sales help countless people deal with dozens of medical conditions, reduces crime, and creates jobs. It is also making a noticeable impact in the nation’s tourism industry
While it is still too early to assess just how much of a boon legal pot has been to the tourism industry, data from a few states where marijuana is legal shows that not only is legal weed driving tourism, but that tourists in search of legal weed are also inspiring existing canna-businesses to expand their product and service offerings to meet this growing demand.
In Colorado, for example, a research firm hired by the state’s tourism office found that legal marijuana was “extremely influential” in the vacation decisions of 23 percent of the state’s visitors in 2015. A deeper look at the numbers shows that roughly 4 percent of Colorado’s tourists age 25 or older said they both came to the state for weed and actually shopped for it that year.
Those numbers shouldn’t have been a surprise to state officials, however, as a midsummer report by the Colorado Department of Revenue the previous year indicated that out-of-state visitors accounted for half of all pot sales in Denver and nearly 90 percent in the state’s mountain regions. Another indicator? Searches for Denver on the travel booking site Hotels.com have humorously spiked each year on April 20 since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.
In response to the growing interest in marijuana-based tourism, cannabis entrepreneurs in Colorado have launched cannabis tours and a “weedery” patterned in the mold of a winery.
Tours of dispensaries, grow houses, and other cannabis-friendly destinations are popular with visitors of California, as well. And other new, bud-related businesses are popping up all the time, looking to capitalize on the budding industry — businesses like Oakland’s Puff Pass Paint. Modeled after popular classes that pair wine and painting, Puff Pass Paint lets customers pay a few bucks to get creative and high for a few hours.
Colorado and California aren’t the only states reporting an influx of pot-minded tourists. Oregon, Washington, and Nevada are seeing gains, as well. As Marijuana Business Daily notes all of these states are benefiting from cannabis branding and retailing practices that continue to advance significantly — practices that are helping them not only attract out-of-town customers, but also serve the ones who are already coming.
In Nevada — home to the uber-tourist destination, Las Vegas — the state’s first six months of recreational marijuana sales ($195 million, 2017) crushed those of Colorado’s ($114 million, 2014). And in Oregon, counties along the North Coast, whose natural beauty is popular with tourists, boasted some of the highest per capita sales numbers in the state.
Once these (and other) states can move fully past some of the legal hurdles associated with the legal marijuana business, their ability to generate crowds — and revenue — will be virtually endless.