Curiosity is growing around the Nevada tourism weed factor. (Kaitlin Godbey, TravelNevada)

Will weed light new fire for Nevada tourism? State agency wants to find out

Marijuana won’t be part of any official Nevada tourism campaigns in the near future, but the Silver State’s marketing gurus aren’t necessarily folding on the idea for the long-term.

The Nevada Division of Tourism plans to integrate the topic of marijuana into its upcoming marketing research to determine whether — and to what extent — legal cannabis serves as a tourist draw, officials for the tourism office told The Cannabist earlier this week.

“The results of that research will drive just how much we promote (marijuana’s) legality/availability here,” Bethany Drysdale, Nevada Division of Tourism’s chief communications officer, said via email. “In the meantime, because most of our hotel properties are associated with a casino, and casinos are federally regulated, we are not promoting marijuana as recreation to out-of-market visitors.

“Marijuana is still illegal in casinos/casino-hotels, and in public places, and it cannot be transported across state lines.”

The marijuana-related marketing effectiveness query will first appear in January 2018, Drysdale said.

On July 1, Nevada became the fifth state to allow recreational cannabis sales, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Its cautious approach to the budding industry isn’t out of line with how those other states’ tourism brass have navigated the issue.

Colorado tourism officials have avoided promoting marijuana, citing federal illegality and marketing restrictions packaged into the state’s adult-use law. Other states also have adopted a wait-and-see approach.

Although Nevada officials may be hesitant to latch onto the idea that Las Vegas could be “Amsterdam on steroids,” industry members and observers say the potential tourism draw for Sin City and the entire state is immense.

The Nevada Dispensary Association, which counts the majority of the state’s 66 dispensaries as members, could spearhead a collaborative, comprehensive marketing initiative to launch by the end of this year, said Riana Durrett, executive director of the organization.

That campaign would adhere to local and state advertising rules and regulations, she said, adding that the end-goal would be to simply state how marijuana is legal for adults over 21 years of age, with valid identification.

“I do think we have the potential to be the marijuana tourism capital of the world,” she said.

Just how large of a tourism boon legal cannabis brings could hinge on a multitude of factors, said John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data, a cannabis research and analytics company. Those factors include how the market fills out, proximity of legal marijuana businesses to established tourist strongholds and the extent to which the existing hospitality industry integrates cannabis into their business models.

“If the state warmly embraces cannabis, there is an opportunity for Nevada to set the new standards for cannabis hospitality in a way that we have not seen anywhere else in the country,” he said.

In Colorado, the first state to initiate regulated recreational marijuana sales, a 2016 study found that about 4 percent of visitors 25 and older came for the weed and actually shopped for it while in the state.

If the stars align in Nevada, Kagia estimates the state would see that percentage climb to as much as 25 percent of the state’s 50 million-plus annual visitors.