While Jan. 1 will certainly spark Colorado’s suddenly retail marijuana scene, the cannabis carnival really won’t blaze until April 20.
While a few stores across the state will be opening on the first of the year — the day recreational marijuana is available in stores — the perennially hazy, stoner-celebration day of 4/20 is expected to be a record-setter across Colorado.
World Cannabis Week will stretch the 4/20 party into a five-day tour of Denver’s vibrant pot culture, with visits to grow facilities, how-to seminars, tastings and concerts. Organizers of Denver’s fourth annual Cannabis Cup at the Denver Mart are preparing for 15,000 attendees. And six of Colorado’s busiest ski areas — Aspen, Snowmass, Breckenridge, Winter Park, Keystone and Vail — are shutting down the 2013-14 ski season April 20, a typically festive ski day that could grow even merrier with the introduction of store-bought doobies.
Oh, and 4/20 is also Easter Sunday.
The big day will blend celebrating dope smokers, jubilant skiers, Easter-egg hunters, the world’s largest cannabis competition and Christians extolling the resurrection of Jesus. The colorful cultural swirl of Colorado gets a little pot added to the melting pot on Sunday, April 20, 2014.
And like most of the uncertainties around the impact of legal, retail weed, 4/20 makes some people nervous. Resorts, in particular, are clinging to federal policy prohibiting smoking on federal lands — which makes up most of Colorado’s ski-area terrain — as well as Colorado law forbidding public consumption of marijuana. Ask most resort operators about April 20 closing-day events, and they immediately mention those laws.
Vail plans to pass out business cards outlining the smoking prohibitions. The mountain’s safety crew is prepared to pull passes.
“We don’t expect to do more than we would have in the past to enforce this,” said Vail spokeswoman Liz Biebl. “We are not going to be going around the mountain smelling for marijuana, but we are also not going to allow it in our gondola cars or on lifts. We will enforce it where it is openly happening.”
The resort’s “Spring Back to Vail” season-closing festivities and the valley’s tourism cheerleaders will in no way emphasize marijuana as a way to lure visitors. In fact, they are hoping crackdowns on public consumption will deter ski-area visitors hoping to puff away on their ski holiday.
“Pot tourism is not something we are embracing. It’s really not a part of our core brand or our core audience,” said Chris Romer, chief of the tourism-promoting Vail Valley Partnership.
Eagle County, where 66.5 percent of voters approved the cannabis-legalizing Amendment 64, won’t likely have retail pot shops open until late spring, possibly even missing the ski season, Romer said. So there won’t be stores supplying visitors hoping for a combined 4/20-closing-day celebration in Vail.
“If people are looking to come up and celebrate this up here in Vail, they are probably picking the wrong spot,” Romer said. “There are other places where it’s much more conducive to not get in trouble.”
Such as Denver. With the already-rowdy 4/20 rally at Civic Center and the Cannabis Cup and World Cannabis Week rolling a week of festivities, seminars and concerts into the city, Denver should hit a record high for the now-legit stony set.
“I can’t imagine the chaos that Denver is about to experience,” said Daniel Moorefield, whose Get Elevated Colorado tour operation has enlisted dozens of visitors for a comprehensive voyage across Denver’s marijuana scene and hopes to expand his cannabis tours into mountain communities such as Aspen and Telluride. “Response has been phenomenal. It’s going to be a great week.”
High Times Magazine celebrates its 40th year at its fourth annual Cannabis Cup in Denver. Last year, the event drew about 13,000 visitors; this year, organizers expect about 15,000 attendees at the largest cannabis competition in the world. With retail stores open and fueling the vibe, the event is drawing more attendees as well as vendors who want bigger booths, said Elise McDonough, event designer for the magazine.
“There is just tremendous interest. Last year, you could barely get a flight, and all the hotels were booked. This year will be even busier,” said McDonough, noting that Denver hotels are slowly warming to the idea of pot tourists. “In a couple years, they will be more likely to accept us. I think the potential for cannabis tourism is just going to grow.
“Especially for places that already have very established tourism infrastructure like Colorado. Why would you go to Utah to ski now? For some people, this is a lifetime bucket-list experience. People are telling me this is a trip they have dreamed about for a lifetime.”
Matt Brown, whose My 420 Tours hosted 120 people during the 2013 4/20 week in Denver, is expecting 400 to 500 buyers of his fully guided package this year. He is challenged to find larger, corporate hotels — most of which are entirely nonsmoking — that will host his groups. But smaller to midsize, privately owned properties are eager to house his visitors, Brown said.
“My indications are that smaller, independent property owners are definitely the beneficiaries of this surge in tourism,” he said. “Many of them have been saying, ‘We want the stoners. They are so much better than drunks.’ ”
The smaller, more independent ski areas may likewise benefit from pot tourism. While most resort communities are backpedaling away from pot tourism, Telluride stands alone. The box-canyon seat of San Miguel County — where the 79.1 percent of voters who approved Amendment 64 ranks as the highest in Colorado — is one of the few towns on the Western Slope that is embracing the herb. Telluride is allowing retail stores downtown, unlike Crested Butte, Aspen and Breckenridge, which have forbidden Main Street pot shops. The town appears ready to welcome the new wave of pie-eyed visitors. The town could have three retail shops opening Jan. 1.
And the ski area, while repeating the “it’s against federal law” mantra, isn’t stressing.
“As a member of this community, we stand behind our local residents and their choice to allow recreational marijuana,” said Telluride spokesman Tom Watkinson, noting — as resort people will do for the next year any time they talk about marijuana — that his ski area also operates on federal land. “While upholding the decision made by San Miguel voters, the ski resort … plans to abide by all federal and state laws.”
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, email@example.com or twitter.com/jasontblevins