Experts Debate Legal Weed’s Influence on Colorado Tourism

vaping, marijuana in nature, deep thoughts, getting high
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This week’s Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference, which began each day with sunrise mountain yoga or a sunrise hike, held a break out session to look at “the marijuana message.”

Speaking to an audience of tourism representatives, two experts played down weed’s importance in the state’s recent, and huge, uptick in tourism over the past several years. They focused on how the state is working to educate pot seekers when they visit.

During her keynote speech at the conference, the director of the Colorado Tourism Office, Cathy Ritter, oddly never mentioned the state’s billion-dollar marijuana industry, which now generates more revenue than booze.

She did, however, tell the Denver Post afterward that her office intends to provide more information to tourists about the state’s pot program.

But, her office won’t promote legal weed, Ritter said, because it would be a violation of federal law.

“Even if we could promote marijuana, we wouldn’t, because it’s not a major driver for travelers,” she explained.

Or is it?

A study commissioned by Ritter’s own office showed that legal weed, not just the tourism office’s savvy marketing, is indeed drawing more people to Colorado, pumping up tourism revenue to a juicy $20 billion—a 31 percent rebound since pot legalization in 2013.


According to search data, tourist interest in states and cities where pot is legal has skyrocketed, and new industries are coming onto the scene to serve those travelers, bringing yet more money into the legal pot states.

Proud of its wildly successful “Come to Life” TV, print and digital ad campaign, the Colorado Tourism Office boasted having spurred over 77 million visitors to the state in 2015.

Oddly, again, the “Come to Life” campaign does not mention marijuana.

No surprise, except for the fact that the tourist office’s state survey revealed that legal pot has had a huge influence on vacationers to the state, with nearly half saying they based their decision to visit on Colorado’s pot laws.

Here’s the breakdown: 22 percent of respondents said legal weed was “extremely influential” in their decision to visit Colorado; 20 percent said it was “very much influential”; and nearly seven percent said it was “somewhat influential.”

This information begs the question: If legal weed is helping fill its coffers and benefitting the rest of the state in numerous ways, why can’t the Colorado Tourism Office admit it?

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