With the legalization of marijuana in four states and Washington, D.C., the marijuana tourism industry is starting to bud -- and go upscale. Think "Napa Valley," with weed.
By Spencer Peterson, Travel+ Leisure.
Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but only Colorado and Washington have licensed dispensaries that can legally sell recreational cannabis. Since legalization and sale came to those communities, the budding pot industry in these two states has tried to shape a future of vineyard-esque tours of marijuana farms, and fatty-friendly salons reminiscent of Amsterdam’s cafes. (The phrase “Napa Valley of weed” gets tossed around a fair bit.)
In the meantime, Colorado and Washington still have a ways to go before pot tourism can flourish. Jeremy Bamford, who started the Colorado Pot Guide website in 2013, directs thousands of daily readers to 420 tours and “Bud & Breakfasts,” but official barriers remain. City and state tourism boards still shy away from promoting weed as an attraction, marijuana lounges are still against the law, and hotels tend to give a pretty firm reiteration of their no-smoking policies when you ask about, say, using a marijuana vaporizer in your room, or smoking a joint on your balcony. (Though a few have vague advertisements on Bamford’s site that provide neither their names nor their addresses.)
One of the problems when it comes to official support is the lack of hard numbers. Over the 4/20 holiday, says Bamford, Visit Denver took stock of hotel occupancy rates, and found they were no greater than on an average weekend. Which makes sense, he points out, because Denver’s weed pilgrims are booking cannabis-friendly accommodations instead. The ongoing stigma of marijuana usage among big-name hospitality brands “reflects a bit of a perception problem, because Colorado’s cannabis tourists actually tend to skew older,” says Bamford. This reefer madness mindset is causing hotels to turn away Terry Gross listeners, not Miley Cirus fans.
Still, marijuana-themed tours of Denver and Seattle continue to fill up, and the boom in recreational dispensaries in Colorado and Washington has produced a range of offerings, with highlights and must-sees for newbies and discerning connoisseurs alike.
Despite a lack of promotion from the Colorado Tourism Office, a handful of cannabis-themed tour operators have sprouted up in the Mile High City. For the most part, they don’t offer anything you couldn’t get into on your own, but the aim is to be “your Colorado friend who holds your hand and shows you this is real,” says Matt Brown, who founded My 420 Tours with business partner James Walker. What their company offers is easily the most complete of those guided experiences. In the four-hour Dispensary & Grow tour, which starts at $129, guests are loaded onto a tinted-windowed party bus (that will, throughout the day, intermittently be filled with pot smoke, the shine of green LEDs, and the soothing tones of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”) and given a short marijuana user’s guide, outlining the differences between sativa and indica plants; the effects of THC and CBD; and the pros and cons of smoking methods, vaporizers, and edibles.
After being treated to a mixture of those sampling options, guests are whisked off to the Native Roots Apothecary for some discounted weed shopping. Out-of-staters can buy up to a quarter ounce of marijuana at a time, but edibles, says Bamford, “are the more popular option, because of the novelty, and because people on the street don’t have to know that’s a weed cookie you’re eating.” Which helps, because public consumption of pot is still banned in the state. Luckily, Colorado’s new regulations on labeling and potency restrictions makes it easier than ever to stay at or below the state’s (very sensible) recommended dose of 10 milligrams of activated THC per edible serving.
Next up is a tour of Medicine Man, one of the biggest commercial marijuana grow facilities in the U.S. After a somewhat forgettable but by that point pretty satisfying meal at the Icehouse Tavern, the tour ends at Illuzion Glass Gallery, a high-artistry head shop with an extensive selection of smoking paraphernalia and “functional glass art.”
For $1,000, a full weekend excursion with My 420 Tours includes airport transportation and a two-hour cannabis cooking class (pot-infused pumpkin muffins, anyone?) with chef Blaine Alexandr of Conscious Confections, which can also be booked on its own for $129. The $1,000 weekend package also comes with two nights at the Denver Crowne Plaza and a Silver Surfer vaporizer on loan. Edibles aside, vaporizing is the only way you can legally consume marijuana in a hotel room, but even that is best done on the sly, with a pocket vaporizer, as the city’s hotels remain wary of marijuana use, and include it with general smoking bans when it comes to balconies, outdoor lounges, and plazas.
If you’d like to smoke marijuana in your room, your best bet in Colorado (or anywhere else in the U.S.) is to search Airbnb or HomeAway for the words “420 friendly.” Otherwise, in downtown Denver, there’s the Adagio “Bud & Breakfast,” a 122-year-old Victorian house in the Wyman Historic District, which has a well-reviewed “420 Happy Hour” and on-site cannabis-infused massages, done with a “blend of unique oils high in THC, CBD, and CBN, utilizing a full cannabinoid spectrum and allowing for maximum healing potential.”
If Cannabis concierges and “Puff, Pass, Paint” art classes aren’t really your speed, Denver has no shortage of recreational dispensaries and head shops you can visit on your own. For a relaxing, controlled buzz, try the Cherry Slider at LoDo Wellness, or for something more euphoric, order the Ed Rosenthal Super Bud at EuFlora. Both dispensaries are a short walk from the 16th Street Mall, Denver’s pedestrian-friendly shopping district.
Other noteworthy shops from Colorado’s early dispensary boom include Helping Hands, an all-organic dispensary in Boulder; Telluride Bud Company, the only dispensary in Telluride that grows all its weed in town; and Aspen’s STASH, where strains come with print-outs detailing soil nutrients and grow conditions. Maggie’s Farm, which is touted as Colorado’s only true outdoor marijuana grow, runs a handful of dispensaries throughout the state, but its Manitou Springs location is the most popular, due to its location at the foot of Pike’s Peak. It’s not hard to find a dispensary near any one of Colorado’s many national parks, but keep in mind that possession of marijuana on federal land is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Seattle’s leader in kush tourism is Kush Tourism, a tour operator founded by Chase Nobles and Michael Gordon. For $150, they offer a three-and-a-half hour jaunt led by employees dressed in refreshingly non-stonerish khakis and polos. The education-focused tour includes a walkthrough of Sky High Gardens, a 30,000-square-foot growing facility on Harbor Island; a visit to Analytical360, a pot-testing lab; a demonstration at the Boro School of glassblowing, which also offer beginners classes where you make your own pipe; and Uncle Ike’s, a popular local pot shop. “You can get stoned anywhere in this country,” Nobles once told the Seattle Times. “Our tour’s more about education … we take you to see something you can’t otherwise see.” The menu at Uncle Ike’s changes fast, but a few current highlights are the Bettie Page, which offers a potent but clear high that is great for daytime smoking, and Champagne Kush, which has a refreshing, bubbly-reminiscent taste.
If you’re stationed in Lower Queen Anne (Space Needle territory), Cannabis City, the first recreational marijuana store in the city, is another great place to buy weed. Short-term rental sites will be your best bet if 420-friendly accommodations are a must, but the Bacon Mansion, a Capitol Hill bed-and-breakfast, permits marijuana smoking on outside porches and patios, or the use of vaporizers indoors.
Head outside Seattle, and you can check out the Evergreen Market, which offers a pretty awesome vision for what the weed dispensary could be, with modern fixtures, a generous, open floor plan with an industrial vibe, and hardly a pot-leaf insignia in sight. In Olympia, Green Lady Marijuana is an unassuming little pot shop with a great selection of edibles and discreet vaping pens. Spokane also has a fine selection of weed shops, including Satori, which is known for its friendly, knowledgeable staff and impressive selection.
As of July of this year, recreational marijuana use is legal in Oregon, but production and retail licenses won’t be approved until January of 2016. (Alaska is in a similar situation.) Just across the Columbia River from Portland, however, you can spend a few hours touring the grow operation of farmer Tom Lauerman, the “Walt Whitman of weed,” in Bush Prairie, Washington. On the first tour, in June of 2014, Oregon Live reported that he “spoke with equal pride about his tasty sugar snap peas and his Chemdawg, a popular strain of marijuana,” and began the event “with an offer of a complimentary joint.”
This article was previously published on Travel + Leisure. T+L is a content partner of Fortune.com.
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