For most US States there is no such thing as marijuana tourism because so few states permit non-residents to legally buy. But in Colorado, marijuana tourism is a real business and it’s generating real dollars despite the State’s lack of Amsterdam-style coffee shops (which are prohibited in both Colorado and Washington under the new recreational cannabis laws, as is public consumption in any shape or form).
How then, might you ask, are these tourism companies gaining traction if you can’t actually visit the stores and light up inside and you cannot consume marijuana in public? Out of staters are plenty happy to come to Colorado to legally use the product and to see how it’s being made and who’s making it. Private marijuana bus trips have sprung up in Colorado and private cannabis dispensary tours are also enjoying massive popularity among tourists. My 420 Tours and Colorado High Life are just two of the dispensary tour companies with an established presence in Colorado. There’s even a marijuana-friendly travel agency in Colorado that will plan your trip to the Centennial State to ensure that you hit [pun intended] the desired marijuana destinations in Denver, to include access to the High Times Cannabis Cup, a ski package, and the opportunity to “immerse yourself in Colorado’s legal cannabis culture.”
But what does it take to start a marijuana tourism business? And how can you ensure that your cannabis travel business complies with State and local and even federal laws?
In Washington State, there is no state law precisely on point for regulating marijuana tourism. Nonetheless, I-502 definitely accommodates out-of-state use in that nothing prohibits non-residents from coming to Washington and purchasing and using up to _____ ounces of recreational marijuana without threat of criminal prosecution. In Colorado, Amendment 64 provides that non-residents can buy up to a quarter ounce of recreational cannabis (less than the one ounce allowed by native Coloradans).
It’s a no-brainer that starting any business requires choosing the right business structure and making sure that all necessary filings have been made with local and state governments. Furthermore, any business operating within city limits should have a business license and any necessary additional permits required to operate a tourism business. These businesses will also want to check in with their city’s tourism board to ensure that they’re in their local city’s good graces. There’s also a question about marketing, what advertising is permissible? Again, a question for the local government if no State law says otherwise.
Perhaps the most difficult issue of all though is how far such a business can and should go in promoting itself on the internet to out-of-staters. Companies may want to avoid using marketing materials that encourage people to cross interstate lines to do legally in another state what they cannot do legally in their own, especially since all of it remains illegal under federal law so as not to inflame federal law enforcement. Do not forget, both medical and recreational cannabis are illegal under federal law.
Though cannabis tourism is certainly an exciting prospect, these businesses are operating in a somewhat gray area of the law and so they should make very sure to stay on top of the laws that relate to their particular business and even their business methods. Nonetheless, marijuana tourism is likely here to stay unless and until recreational cannabis becomes legal nationwide.