Zane Swiley of Savannah, Ga., smokes on a private bus during a marijuana tour hosted by My 420 Tours in Denver on Dec. 6, 2014. (Denver Post file)

Colorado’s tourism office will soon start educating visitors about marijuana laws

BRECKENRIDGE — Colorado tourism officials are not actively going to promote the state’s legal marijuana industry any time soon, but they are ramping up educational and informational efforts around the issue, the state’s tourism director said Friday.

New leader for Colorado tourism to take closer look at pot's impact
Cathy Ritter (Special to The Denver Post)

In an interview following her keynote speech here at the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference, Cathy Ritter, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, said may soon have information available conveying the legalities of the state’s marijuana laws.

“I do believe we need to make it clear to our travelers what to expect when they come to a state where marijuana is legal,” she said. “I’ve had some hoteliers believe that their front desk clerks are paying the price because we do not share information with travelers about that.

“Because a lot of people, when they come to the state, are unaware that they can’t smoke marijuana publicly; and so it’s really more of an education program that’s needed.”

The educational information about Colorado’s legal marijuana regulations eventually would be searchable on the state’s tourism website, she said, adding that “we would never have a marijuana tab” on the front page of the website. A timeline for the inclusion of the marijuana-related information has yet to be finalized, she said.

Ritter said she hopes to help clear up any misinformation for visitors who have an interest in the legal marijuana industry as well as those who may be deterred from traveling to Colorado because of their perceptions.

“It’s just good practice to make certain visitors have a good understanding, a good perception on what to expect when they come to visit any destination,” she said.

During her keynote speech on the state of Colorado’s tourism industry — which totaled $19.1 billion in 2015, up 3 percent from the year before — Ritter did not mention the marijuana industry.

“We’re not in a position to promote marijuana because it would be a violation of federal law,” she said in the interview following the speech. “Even if we could promote marijuana, we wouldn’t, because it’s not a major driver for travelers.”

The latest research from the state showed that while legal marijuana played a role in 23 percent of visitors’ trips to Colorado, about 4 percent of adult travelers came to the state because of legal weed and to purchase cannabis products.

To that end, one of the breakout sessions following Ritter’s morning keynote speech was about “The Marijuana Message.”

Officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well as Strategic Marketing & Research Insights, the firm hired by the state to conduct the travel survey, addressed a crowd of around 100 tourism industry members on topics such as tourism data, health concerns and regulations.

Adults exposed to the state’s “Good to Know” campaign were 2.5 times as likely to understand Colorado laws than those who were not exposed to the campaign, said Ali Maffey, retail marijuana education manager for the state’s health department.

“It’s been effective within the state, with residents,” she said. “It’s really hard to reach tourists in the three days they’re here.”

Maffey’s department has taken actions such as online search and retargeting — if people are searching for marijuana with out-of-state IP addresses, they’ll be served with ads about the state’s Good to Know campaign. Additional actions include radio spots within the state as well as brochures available at tourism offices.

“If you are here and choose to use, we want to make sure people have information about the educated use,” she said.