Licenses for what are now three marijuana stores in Glenwood Springs that offer retail recreational sales to people 21 and older couldn’t have come at a better time to tap into the town’s summertime influx of tourists.
“It’s been huge. I now tell people I work in the tourist business,” said Melissa Finn, manager at the Greenwerkz marijuana center on South Glen Avenue near Wal-Mart, which was the first Glenwood medical marijuana dispensary to enter the recreational market when it earned city approvals in May.
“We still see a lot of Colorado residents coming in, but the out-of-state visitors have been significant,” she said. “Honestly, I’d say it’s in the 70- to 80-percent range.”
That assessment is backed by a recently released Colorado Department of Revenue marijuana market study, which determined that out-of-state visitors have accounted for about 90 percent of retail marijuana sales in the state’s mountain communities since January.
By contrast, the study found that only about 44 percent of Front Range metro-area sales have been to those visiting from out of state.
“Visitor demand is most prevalent in the state’s mountain counties, where combined medical and retail sales more than doubled after retail sales were legalized,” the study concluded. “While many Colorado residents have medical marijuana cards allowing them to purchase at a lower tax rate and at a greater number of locations, out-of-state visitors must purchase from retail marijuana vendors exclusively.”
Those out-of-state purchasers, though, need a little education on Colorado’s marijuana laws, Finn and others in the business locally said.
State voters in 2012 legalized marijuana possession and sales of limited amounts to adults. Retail sales were not allowed to begin until January of this year following a lengthy state and local regulatory process.
While Colorado residents can purchase up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana, nonresidents are limited to a quarter ounce (7 grams) per purchase. Any marijuana product purchased in Colorado also must be consumed in state, and cannot be transported across state lines or into airports.
The state constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana also prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public places where visitors are likely to be. That includes parks, public streets, in vehicles and at most hotels and other lodges, many of which prohibit smoking of any kind on the premises.
For that reason, edible varieties of marijuana-infused products, such as cookies and candy, have become popular with out-of-state purchasers, said Jason Mitchell of the new Green Joint recreational marijuana outlet at 11th and Grand, which is the city’s newest licensee, having just opened for retail sales Aug. 1.
“It goes both ways depending on people’s preference,” he said. “But it does seem like tourists are engaged in the easiest way to get it and consume it, and a lot feel like smoking it is the most unhealthy way to do that.”
Any purchase comes with a warning to be careful with dosages of edible products, which can be more potent than smoking marijuana, Mitchell said.
The state is looking at regulating the amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the high, that can be in edible products.
Since the legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado in 2000 and the proliferation of dispensaries several years later, followed by legalization for recreational use by adults two years ago, marijuana in general has become a lot more potent, said Ron Radtke of the Glenwood Green Dragon retail store on Devereux Road, which became licensed in June.
“If someone comes in from out of state, we do go over with them what the limits are and what to be careful with,” Radtke said. “That includes some instruction that this is not the stuff from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It is a lot more potent, and we advise people to try it more cautiously.”
No Targeted tourism
For now, none of Glenwood Springs’ hotels are marketing themselves as marijuana-friendly. If a particular lodge does have smoking rooms available, it’s a good idea to ask if that includes marijuana, said Lisa Langer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“From the lodges I’ve talked to, most don’t allow smoking period, so smoking marijuana goes right along with that policy,” Langer said. “I know they were wondering how legalization was going to affect them, and some put up extra signs saying no smoking on premises.”
From a marketing standpoint, the chamber and the city are not likely to go after the marijuana tourism market specifically, she said.
“We haven’t embraced it like other towns maybe have,” Langer said. “I don’t know if there’s a desire to do so from a tourism marketing standpoint, since we are more of a family destination and we want to be known more for that.”
Especially for those coming from points west, though, Glenwood Springs is currently the first town on the Interstate 70 corridor that offers recreational marijuana sales, since most municipalities have banned it. Town of De Beque voters have cleared the way for marijuana businesses, but the application process opened just last week.
Representatives from the three Glenwood Springs retail outlets now doing business say it’s probably only a matter of time before lodges and other businesses start embracing the marijuana marketing potential as competition increases.
“The first hotels that promote the idea and advertise themselves as [marijuana] friendly, and that it’s not something to be persecuted for, are going to be booked out the door,” Green Joint’s Mitchell predicted.
That could lead to other types of marijuana-friendly businesses catering to tourists, he said.
Greenwerkz’s Finn agreed, adding she has already experienced businesses in Denver catering to the marijuana crowd, including tourists.
“We’re talking about the end of prohibition, and the demand we’re seeing is exactly what I anticipated,” she said.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson observed that since legalization there have been very few incidents, or at least complaints, about people smoking or consuming marijuana in public, which is illegal.
“We do leave it to the discretion of officers when to enforce that,” Wilson said. “But, so far, we’ve been quite pleased with the lack of tickets being issued.”
Police were braced for possible marijuana-related incidents during the busy Strawberry Days weekend in June, he said.
“We had damn near zero contacts,” Wilson said, adding that people were either complying with laws prohibiting marijuana smoking in public or they were just being discreet about it.
Complaints have been few also, he said, adding most of the complaints have involved the smell from private growing operations, rather than from smoking.