Mike Goldstein of New York photographs himself with plants at La Conte’s grow facility during a marijuana tour hosted by My 420 Tours in Denver on December 6, 2014. (Denver Post file)

How many tourists come for Colorado weed? Survey may surprise you

Last fall, a research firm hired by the Colorado Tourism Office surveyed the state’s visitors and found that legal marijuana influenced vacation decisions for nearly half of the state’s visitors. Marijuana supporters heralded the report as proof that legal weed is a major player in the state’s $19 billion tourism economy.

Not so fast, says the tourism office: That number is really closer to 23 percent.

Strategic Marketing & Research Insight group admitted the findings released last fall were faulty. At the request of the tourism office, the respondents were re-surveyed to delve more deeply into how they were influenced by the ability to purchase and consume marijuana legally.

In the survey, 64 percent of tourists over the age of 25 reported legal marijuana played no role in their decision to visit the state. About 14 percent of travelers called selling of weed a negative influence but came to Colorado anyway. The remaining 23 percent of people who visited Colorado in 2015 said the availability of marijuana positively influenced their decision to vacation in the state.

Not surprisingly, interest in legal weed was higher among younger visitors. For travelers 55 and older, for example, 22 percent said marijuana sales made them less interested in visiting the state and 75 percent said marijuana had no influence on their decision to visit, comprising 97 percent of that age group. But among travelers between the ages of 25 and 34, 66 percent said marijuana sales either played no role or negatively influenced their decision to visit, while 33 percent said weed was one of the reasons they vacationed in Colorado.

The number of vacationers who said they came to Colorado because of legal marijuana sales was 11 percent, and among that group 39 percent said they visited a dispensary.

That leaves about 4 percent of Colorado’s 25-and-up vacationers saying they came for the weed and actually shopped for cannabis.

Strategic Marketing & Research Insight breaks down a list of motivating factors for vacations by season. That 4 percent motivation for marijuana mirrors camping, biking, wine tours and horseback riding in the spring-summer-fall months, according to the group’s survey results. The top activities that motivated vacationers to book a Colorado vacation in the warm-weather months were scenic drives, visits to state and national parks, dining at restaurants and shopping. In the winter, skiing is the overwhelming motivator for Colorado visitors.

Cathy Ritter, the head of the Colorado Tourism Office, said the latest results are inline with previous surveys that show, yes, marijuana is a factor for some, but not many, vacationers who choose to holiday in Colorado.

“Not too surprising, actually,” she said, noting that the new research discredits that 48 percent statistic from last fall. “Still, that finding did inspire us to dig deeper. And now we know we are talking about a very small subset of our travelers who are truly motivated by the opportunity to buy marijuana.”

Still, tax revenue from marijuana continues to climb for cities big and small. Medical and recreational marijuana sales in Colorado are expected to top $1 billion this year, filling municipal coffers. Denver, with the extensive network of marijuana stores, harvested $29 million in sales taxes and licensing fees in 2015.

A midsummer study by the Colorado Department of Revenue in 2014 showed out-of-state visitors account for half the marijuana sales in Denver and 90 percent in mountain communities. Statewide, tourists account for about 7 percent of marijuana demand, which the study estimated at 130.3 metric tons.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com