Law has barrier to pot tourism

Colorado visitors can’t smoke marijuana in bars, coffee shops or other public places

Staff writerMarch 16, 2014 

— A lot of talk about pot tourism has accompanied legalization in Colorado, but visitors to the state face a big hurdle to partaking.

“I don’t know where a person who came to smoke marijuana would smoke it, unless they’re in somebody’s private home,” Denver City Council President Mary Beth Susman said. “Hotels are banning it. We’ve banned even displaying it on the 16th Street Mall (a downtown promenade) and in our parks.”

Just like in Washington, Colorado’s legalization does not extend to bars, coffee shops or other public places. And unlike cigarettes, you can’t simply step outside to smoke.

Most hotels are not publicly embracing marijuana. A tourist might have better luck finding pot-friendly accommodations on Airbnb or other websites that connect travelers to private home rentals. But a few businesses are tapping into the market.

To find a weed-friendly inn, go west from Denver about 20 miles and drive past jagged cliffs into the town of Morrison, population 430.

The Cliff House Lodge, built by town founder George Morrison in 1864 as his residence, is a short walk from scenic tourist attraction Red Rocks Park. Angela and Daniel Bernhardt have managed the place since 2012 for owners who live in North Carolina.

The husband-and-wife innkeepers weren’t broadcasting a pot-friendly stance, Angela Bernhardt said, until a local reporter called hotels asking about pot policies.

She had used a medical-marijuana card for years, Bernhardt said, and with everybody else saying no, simple supply and demand dictated she say yes. She knows that much, she said, from her years spent earning a bachelor’s degree in economics.

“They should revoke it if I said no,” she said.

The phone has been ringing steadily ever since, she said. “My business has increased over three times.”

In the main lodge, a deer head hung on the wall and a display case was stocked with crystals. A gray-and-white cat slept on the back of the couch. The phone rang and Bernhardt told a customer some details about the Stone Street cottage: apartment sized, with a kitchenette.

It’s the only one of their eight adobe-style cottages in which smoking is allowed inside. But all guests are welcome to smoke on outdoor patios behind privacy fences, perhaps while sitting in a hot tub.

Once the innkeepers clear out a bunch of junk and furniture from behind the lodge and maybe tear down a fence, she said, they will build a more communal spot for people to smoke.

Bernhardt said she also plans to let tour companies bring in groups. One company wants to fully rent out the inn, she said.

Several companies in Denver are offering private tours, ferrying passengers from store to store in a chartered vehicle and letting them smoke en route.

Out-of-state visitors have flooded the retail stores, but advocates, regulators and people in the industry aren’t sure people are really coming to Colorado in significant numbers just for that purpose.

Companies hoping to cash in aren’t getting any help from Colorado tourism bureaus. None of them is promoting the state as a marijuana destination, said Rich Grant, a spokesman for Visit Denver, which has a one-year moratorium on such marketing.

“I think it’s unclear at this point whether we truly have a tourist market for the product,” said Ron Kammerzell, senior director of enforcement at the state Department of Revenue. “I think it’s secondary to them coming here to visit for another reason.”

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