PHOTO: Long lines are already forming, even in a near blizzard, to purchase legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado. (photo courtesy Brent Green)
Brent Green doesn’t even like marijuana.
The Denver resident, Huffington Post columnist and author of several books, including “Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future,” will admit to having used marijuana occasionally during the last 30 years. And yes, he did inhale.
He will go so far as to say he has at times enjoyed himself under the influence. But often as not after imbibing he would fall into an uncomfortable state of anxiety and paranoia and start obsessing over finances, or something equally unpleasant. It wasn’t really for him.
But on Jan. 1, 2014, he wanted to be part of history.
“What I really wanted was a receipt dated Jan. 1, 2014, the first day that recreational marijuana became legal anywhere in the world,” he said. It is a sea change of major proportions, and Green, a social commentator, wanted a close-up look. He saw more than he anticipated.
Green visited three of the 14 stores that are licensed in Colorado to sell recreational marijuana retail and saw lines that wrapped around the buildings in the Denver winter. Major TV news networks were on the scene. It wasn’t comfortable standing out in the cold. At times the weather approached blizzard conditions, but people stayed in line.
“In each case there were enormous lines of people,” he said. “I read that there were as much as five-hour waits. People were camping out the night before to be first in line, as they do when a new Xbox or iPad comes out.”
The crowd was diverse in age and social set.
“In my experience, the people in line tended to skew younger, but there were plenty of 50-plus people. There were people who you could tell would be in business suits if it had been a work day.”
Many had come from out of state, and some were international visitors.
Yes, says Green, legalized marijuana already is a tourist attraction in Colorado, not just nationally but internationally. Green was chairman of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of a major Colorado city. He also headed the marketing for a major five-star resort. He knows of which he speaks.
“Colorado is rubbing its hands together over the revenue potential,” said Green. The retail cost of marijuana in Colorado is 30 percent taxes, and by law the first $40 million of marijuana tax revenue must go to the schools.
“But they are not the only ones who are eager for this. You can bet the tour operators are already organizing junkets," Green said.
Green’s belief that legalized marijuana will be a tourist attraction is based on several factors.
“There has been enormous national and international attention on this legalization,” he said. And many of the people standing in the lines were tourists, both national and international.
“Experience tells us with Amsterdam, there is no question that the liberal laws attracted international marijuana tourism,” said Green. “I know that from reading, studying and when we went there, in conversations with people who said things like, ‘We came from Germany so we could get stoned.’”
Something similar happened in Vancouver, British Columbia, where authorities maintained a “look-the-other-way attitude” toward consumption of marijuana. According to Green, “The growth of what they called ‘BC bud’ has been fueled heavily by tourism as well as by Canadians.”
The effect of legalized marijuana could have an especially potent impact on Colorado tourism.
“There is already a predisposition for Colorado to be a tourism destination,” said Green. “There is a long-standing association between Colorado and a more adventurous lifestyle from the growth of Aspen from a mining town to travel destination for the rich and famous, which financed elite drug cultures in Aspen and Telluride. Colorado has been a tourism destination for a long time, with the mountains, skiing, hiking ...Tourism is one of our main industries.”
Another advantage for Colorado in terms of growing its international tourism industry is that it is a major airline hub with daily direct flights to Europe and Asia.
Also feeding into the trend is what Green refers to as “an explosion of recreational product in the last 10 years in Colorado. We have significant teams in all the major sports, hockey, soccer, football and baseball. Add to that the growth of the concert industry. Colorado gets the best and brightest musical entertainment of any state.” For some people being able to legally smoke marijuana would be considered a benefit.
That number could be substantial. A recent Gallup poll reported that 38 percent of Americans had tried marijuana. NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, cites government studies that report that 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year and 14 million do it regularly.
If even a small percentage of those users are inclined to consider liberal marijuana laws an incentive in choosing a tourism destination, it could be a significant boost to the tourism economy. At the moment, Colorado has a corner on the market till June, when Seattle will come online as Washington becomes the newest state to legalize recreational marijuana.