Last updated: 09:18 AM ET, Fri July 18 2014

Marijuana Tourism: High Times With My 420 Tours

Tour Operator David Cogswell July 18, 2014

Marijuana Tourism: High Times With My 420 Tours

PHOTO: My 420 Tours takes tourists to visit marijuana growing facilities, dispensaries and other places associated with the burgeoning marijuana industry and the "420 lifestyle." (Photo courtesy My 420 Tours)

When marijuana became legal in Washington state last week, Colorado had to begin to share the marijuana tourism market with Washington. It’s reasonable to expect that with Colorado having  to share the limelight with Washington there will be less to go around.  Apparently, however, that is not the case.

Dan Meinerz, head of sales and public relations for Denver-based My 420 Tours, which claims to be the first legal marijuana tour operator in North America, said the company saw a spike in inquiries the week that marijuana became legal in Washington. It’s too soon to make accurate judgments, but it could be that when it comes to marijuana tourism, the demand is taking off faster than the supply is growing.

In fact, the surge of demand has convinced My 420 Tours to move to establish its footprint in the new market.

That is just one part of the endless stream of surprises that has accompanied the enigmatic social transformation surrounding the legalization of marijuana in America, the change from a criminal activity to a thriving industry.

My 420 Tours bills itself as the first legal marijuana tour company in North America. The company actually started prior to legalization, providing activities for attendees of the 420 events in April 2013. That poised the company to be ready to jump in when marijuana became legal last Jan. 1.

TravelPulse spoke with Meinerz about how the business has developed and changed since it started and his speculations on where it is going.

Travel Pulse: Since My 420 Tours started before legalization of marijuana, it must have changed a great deal since Jan. 1.

Dan Meinerz: Originally the intention of J.J. Walker, the CEO, the proprietor that started it, was just, “Let’s get people who are coming for the 420 events to experience something different.” There was the Cannabis Cup and the rally, but we were taking them to classes, workshops, a cannabis cooking class, getting people on a bus tour showing them around Denver, and it was spawned organically as a tour company.  The media picked up on it and it has really grown.  

TP: Were you with the company when it started in April 2013?

DM: I hopped on Jan. 1.

TP: Has the business grown since January?

DM: Oh absolutely. We’ve been very fortunate to grow organically, through word of mouth and through all the different streams of media. We field an average every week of four or five interviews. We get people calling from all around the country and abroad. People are calling from Canada, Spain, Germany... We’ve had guests from all over the world as well, Pakistan, Russia, you name it. It’s an international thing. I guess being the first and being in the limelight with the media coverage has really helped.

TP: How much of the business is from out of state?

DM: The business is 90 percent out of state, including most of the phone calls we get and all of the all-inclusive tours. The one-day tours have more local business.

TP: How has the volume grown?

DM: It’s going great. Initially by the numbers we were hosting maybe six to eight people on an all-inclusive tour, a whole weekend package. We set them up at a 420-friendly hotel, take them to a cannabis cooking class one day, a couple of dispensaries, 420 Happy Hour and events at night and then the next day we show them a dispensary tour, we show them a grow facility on a large scale, more dispensaries and events going on that day.

Now we’re at a point where all of our tours are selling out. So we probably have about 30 people who are coming out on a vacation. It’s a wide array of guests, from a young couple in their 30s from Canada to the retired veteran who worked for the federal government coming out from DC for a week and a half. We get everybody from that age demographic, male and female.

It’s interesting. Some people initially thought, “Oh this is just an excuse for the 21-year-olds to come out and just get high.” But that’s definitely not the case. We rarely get people in their 20s, partly because of the price tag on it. We definitely do have a higher end clientele.

And it’s not “come here, get high and hang out.” You can do that anywhere. But here it’s the experience, the education, everything that’s behind the scenes here in Denver. The great partners we work with are the best in the industry, from the grow facilities to the dispensaries. We’ve established really good working relationships with all these folks.

Initially we were doing tours every other week. We wanted to make sure our numbers were getting sold. Now it has grown exponentially. We’re up to 30 sold out on our all-inclusive package tours. We also do single days with a cooking lesson or a dispensary tour. And that’s our capacity now.

We partnered with a 420-friendly hotel in Denver. It’s a three-star hotel right at the heart of Denver. It’s close to everything, including the 16th Street Mall, the shopping district, the dispensaries. It’s a place where people want to be. They don’t want to be in a hotel off the beaten path. We’ve prided ourselves on building a good working relationship with them, the way we do business, and we’ve tried to copy and paste that model to our work with other hotels.

We had a prior relationship with that hotel, which helps, but with the hotels we didn’t have a relationship with they’re kind of running scared. They’re excited about the opportunity, but once it gets up to the ownership level they have to shoot it down, with, “Hey we’re a family hotel, we can’t have this…” or, “We can’t afford for our other guests to have a hint of a smell.” So that’s kind of what hindered our scheduling.

If we have a blackout date weekend, it keeps us from putting our guests up in a hotel. So it causes us to pick and choose dates. We’re held back by hotel space.

TP: Are you now beyond the capacity available to you?

DM: Yes.

In order to get a 420-friendly hotel, it has to be vaporizing only. They’re not allowed to smoke, just like they’re not allowed to smoke tobacco in a hotel. So we provide our guests with the free use of vaporizers. So they can go into their rooms and vaporize legally, no problem. It just leaves a vapor that evaporates. There’s no smoke. So it doesn’t leave a smell or a mess. We’ve had absolutely zero issues since we started this.

TP: You have only one 420-friendly hotel now and it’s not enough to accommodate your guests as you grow?

DM: That's right. If you go into the outer limits of Denver you can hit others, but at the same time, you suffer with quality, with the amenities.

TP: How has the business been different than you expected?

DM: It’s a good question. It’s become more of a level of responsibility. We sit here today with a lot of eyes on us, a lot of great customers, a lot of great experiences under our belt and we talk about how anything organic needs to grow. And we find ourselves acting as a spokesman for Colorado cannabis tourism. We not only have to educate people in terms of the different strains and how they grow, and how to cook with it, but also in terms of the laws and how they came to be and where they’re going and making sure that everyone is safe and watching out for their best interests.

We’ve found ourselves a bigger part of the community not only of Denver tourism, but of the industry because everything we do can be magnified. From people giving their feedback on  a tour to any media we have. It’s something we really have to treat with a level of respect for the industry as a whole and for where it’s going.

Everybody says Denver is the test state, the test model. We know we aren’t just doing this for our own business reasons, we are doing it for the whole industry, for the whole country. That’s the difference. It started as a fun little pot tour for people to just have a good time, and it still is, but that responsibility and that educational piece is crucial right now.  

We're working with some of the best in the industry at ways to provide a bigger and better message to the rest of the country and the rest of the world of "Here's what we're doing. Here's what's reallly happening in the culture." It isn't just a reason to come out to get high. There is an educational element. This is medicine that can help cure a number of ailments. This is the future. We talk about hemp production and all the different kinds of materials that hemp can make. This is an industry that people are flooding in here to try to get a part of. Investors are coming in trying to throw money around. At this point if they don't have a big enough dollar, people won't even return their phone calls. It's a piece of the action. It's here and it's here to stay.

Washington just went recreational. Ever since that happened last week, our calls have increased. We're thinking, no, we're not standing alone here in Colorado. We’ve got another state online now. And the plan is, yes, we are going to have a footprint out there as well. We're building a strategy to get there, to have a My 420 Tours in Washington state. I think it’s proved to the rest of the country that, yeah, this is legit and I feel comfortable. I’m going to call Denver and get on this tour.