By ANA CAMPOY
Entrepreneurs looking to profit from Colorado’s legalization of recreational pot use are praising proposed rules that could encourage marijuana tourism.
The task force drawing up regulations to govern the marijuana law recommended late Tuesday that state legislators shouldn’t require those purchasing pot to be residents. Reflecting some concerns however, the task force recommended that tourists should be able to purchase only small amounts of marijuana and suggested potentially putting up notices at stores and airports warning travelers not to take marijuana out of the state.
The state’s legalization of pot, approved by 55% of voters in November, allows citizens 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of the drug. The task force didn’t specify how much less it believed tourists should be able to buy but discussed a potential limit of an eighth of an ounce, enough for roughly five to 10 marijuana cigarettes.
State lawmakers will make a final decision by the beginning of May on a regulatory framework to oversee sales of recreational marijuana, a key step in implementing the new law. Legal sales are set to begin next January. The state already allows the sale of marijuana for medical purposes to those with a doctor’s prescription.
Industry observers say the Legislature will likely heed the advice of the task force, whose members include representatives for the owners of medical dispensaries, as well as law-enforcement officers and elected officials. It is set to make its full recommendations to lawmakers in March.
Opening up marijuana sales to nonresidents would dramatically expand the market of consumers, benefiting the pot industry in the state. The tourism industry is also likely see a boost.
“You’re going to see an instant spike in demand because of the sheer excitement of people,” said Jason Katz, chief of operations at Local Product of Colorado, a medical-marijuana dispensary. “Colorado will inevitably become a tourist destination for anyone who wants to smoke marijuana without being potentially threatened or being a criminal.”
Almost 58 million travelers visited Colorado in 2011, according to the latest data from the Colorado Tourism Office. The office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the recommendation. A spokesman for Visit Denver, the bureau of visitors and conventions for the state’s largest city and capital, declined to comment until the state Legislature has enacted the new marijuana rules.
Some travel experts are already predicting that allowing tourists to legally smoke pot could make Colorado a more popular destination.
Arthur Frommer, of Frommer’s Travel Guides, predicted that Colorado and Washington, where voters also approved the recreational use of marijuana, will be hot tourist spots this year. “Expect a torrent of new tourism to Seattle and Denver,” he wrote in a blog post in November.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with implementing marijuana legalization in that state, is in the process of creating new rules. The law passed by voters didn’t specify whether nonresidents should be allowed to buy pot.
Some Colorado task-force members opposed the measure, saying that allowing nonresidents to buy pot will inevitably lead to trafficking across state lines and bring unwanted attention from federal regulators. Marijuana remains an illegal substance under federal law.
“If the federal government determines we are not doing enough to contain recreational marijuana within the state, it increases the likelihood the federal government will take action and potentially shut down the entire industry,” opponents of the task force wrote in a summary explaining their dissent.
Some supporters of legal pot, meanwhile, worry that a flood of stoned tourists might tarnish the marijuana industry’s image.
“I wouldn’t want to see too much consumption early on,” said Ralph Morgan, owner of OrganaLabs LLC, a company that makes marijuana-infused tablets. But he added that he is reassured by the proposed limits on visitor purchases.
Write to Ana Campoy at [email protected]