When Colorado voters saw fit to legalize marijuana in the 2012 election, a whole new branch of the tourism industry was born.
Empress Travel, located on Upper Union Street in Schenectady, is taking part in that new business boom, announcing Wednesday that it had sold its first Colorado Cannabis Tour to Denver, nicknamed the Mile-High City because it is nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.
“We believe cannabis tours will be just as popular as winery tours and microbrewery tours,” said Ed Plog, owner of Empress Travel. “And, we as travel planners have the contacts to plan the entire package for our clients. Everything from air tickets to hotels to tours.”
While Colorado and Washington passed laws legalizing marijuana in 2012, Colorado voters determined how to best regulate and tax the drug in the 2013 election, and on Jan. 1 of this year, pot began being sold commercially to non-medical, recreational users 21 years of age and older. Washington is expected to open its own pot stores later this year.
Plog said his company began looking into cannabis tours to Colorado late last month.
“We’ve had a couple of inquires over the last couple of weeks, so we started doing our homework to see what was happening and what they were offering,” said Plog. “We had a few people who were just curious, be we did get one gentleman who was serious about it and we have booked.”
Cannabis stores are doing a good business according to numerous media reports from Colorado, and the number of special tours and packages is on the increase. Within the first week of January, more than 130 stores had applied for licenses to sell marijuana and about 40 had actually begun selling the product. Officials expect the number of stores throughout the state to peak around 200, and entrepreneurs have not hesitated to use such advertising slogans such as “Mile-High” and “Rocky Mountain High,” currently one of two official state songs of Colorado.
“We’ve seen the advertising, but we’re going to play it pretty straight,” said Plog, laughing. “This is not our usual line of business, and it’s not the kind of thing that I would be interested in, but if other people are interested we’ll work for them.”
Plog, who noted that Empress Travel was founded 44 years ago by his mother and a few friends, said that costs for the cannabis tours are reasonable.
“The touring itself is really just a one-day thing,” he explained. “They pick you up at the hotel, they take you to see where it’s grown and then they take you to a place where you can experience some of the different kinds of cannabis. That cost is pretty reasonable. Like most trips, the big expense is your airline ticket and hotel room.”
Colorado is the first state in the country to open commercial marijuana stores, allowing in-state customers to purchase as much as an ounce of weed (around $200). Out-of-state visitors are restricted to a quarter ounce. The product can’t be smoked in public, and only at private places with the owner’s permission.
According to NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, pot is the third-most popular drug in the U.S. behind alcohol and tobacco.