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Gwynne Ann Unruh is a former award winning reporter at the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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If our neighboring state of Colorado is an indication of what could happen with New Mexico’s cannabis legalization, hang on to your hats. Cannabis tourists are coming in droves for a “Rocky Mountain high in Colorado” and could also come in droves from all over the world to experience a getaway with the flowering buds in the Land of Enchantment. A tourist market is emerging, and beside the cannabis tourist, big business investors are coming too.

With out-of-the-country travel restricted due to COVID-19, tourists will be looking to tour the U.S. And with out-of-staters able to purchase marijuana with their ID in New Mexico, the mountains, sunshine, blue sky, natural beauty and the history of The Land of Enchantment will likely be the ace in the hole for the cannabis travel industry here. New Mexican dispensaries can learn a lot from the experiences dispensaries in other states have had with legalization and what they have done to appeal to cannabis tourists and investors.

There are numerous physical and psychological benefits associated with medicinal marijuana. And as research further proves the medicinal benefits, those who use it for its healing properties want to continue to do so as they travel. Others, who use cannabis to relax, also want to do so when they are on vacation. Holiday-makers will be coming to New Mexico now that it is legal and will be looking for accommodations in which they can relax with weed. This has really upped the demand for cannabis-friendly hotels and other places to stay where weed is welcome.

While the fledgling marijuana-tourism industry might be booming, there are still plenty of legal hurdles to negotiate. The legal-cannabis business is kind of like the Wild West, with a makeshift of unclear regulations that can vary from state to state, and even city to city. Many people are buying weed or use medical cannabis, and there’s nowhere for them to actually use their stash. Many of the states where marijuana is legal do not allow smoking in public places. And many landlords, rentals, Airbnb and hotels are smoke-free and not 420 friendly. Licensed Non-Profit Producers (LNPP) of medical cannabis in New Mexico are still waiting be able to apply for an additional on-site area in their dispensaries for cannabis consumption.

The Lynn & Erin Compassionate Use Act Amendments allow for consumption areas in dispensaries owned and operated in New Mexico by an LNPP. The consumption areas were scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2020 under a law passed in 2019 by the New Mexico Legislature. The smoking, vaporizing and ingestion of medical cannabis products by qualified medical cannabis patients was to be permitted within these consumption areas. But then COVID-19 came on the scene, and the rules were never finalized. The recent legalization of recreational cannabis may speed up the process.

Existing producers are the only businesses able to apply to operate consumption areas in the state. The New Mexico Department of Health has closed the LNPP application period and is not currently accepting applications from businesses interested in producing and distributing medical cannabis. Once the cannabis consumption area rule is finalized by DOH Secretary Kathy Kunkel, LNPPs would be required to submit compliance with ongoing COVID guidelines, in addition to regular safety and security plans, in order to open a consumption area for approval.

There is still as much stigma around pot as there are names for it. It attracts everyone from lawyers to truckers, students to professionals, the lighthearted Cheech and Chong-style “stoner” stereotypes and beyond. For some, they may just want to relax, have a first-time experience or have their medical cannabis card and want to travel at the same time. Many are attracted to marijuana because it beats taking a prescription drug and has far fewer side effects. Still others are looking to invest and don’t know much about the product.

There are many ways for dispensaries to truly embrace pot tourism and create an elevated experience or vacation for those seeking more knowledge about the plant. City Sessions Denver Tours offers an immersion experience with an educational focus on the cannabis industry. The company customizes experiences for first-time consumers, regular consumers, industry investors and medical patients. Last year City Sessions ran 288 tours, ranging in size from a single person to groups of 50, seeing just over 1,000 customers in total. They even had a group of five women from Iowa, between 63 and 72 years old, take a tour. Tour prices range from $375 to $500 per person for a half day and $1000 for a full-day tour for investors. A discount is offered for additional people.

In Worcester, Mass., entrepreneurs opened The Summit—one of the first private cannabis clubs in the state—in January of 2018. It is licensed just like a VFW hall, an Elks Lodge, the Masons—any kind of private organization. Customers buy a full membership (a minimum of three months at $15 per month) or a one-day guest pass (also $15) in order to access the private space. Much like a cigar lounge, The Summit is a private space with specialized air-handling equipment (“industrial smoke-eaters”) for members to consume their own smokeables. While The Summit is not allowed to sell marijuana, it does have a license to sell prepackaged snacks and drinks as well as tobacco products, and it has a variety of glass pipes available for purchase or rental, plus menus from neighborhood restaurants that deliver to the front door. Within their first six months of opening, they averaged 100 members and hosted 400 one-day guests a month. In 2015 Jupiter Hotel in Oregon set out to make the cannabis customer comfortable and created the 420 Package, which features items from Portland dispensaries, an issue of Oregon Leaf magazine, a vape pen and a package of coupons and other goodies from nearby dispensaries. The “Everything But the Weed” became their best-selling package ever, selling several every week.

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