Opening up Colorado’s emerging marijuana industry to tourists rather than just residents would boost revenues from cannabis sales exponentially, creating business opportunities on an enormous – and historical – scale. But it would also invite unwanted federal scrutiny and could lead to other unintended consequences.
A task force charged with proposing regulations covering marijuana production and sales in Colorado agreed this week that out-of-state visitors should be able to buy limited amounts of cannabis from retail stores. The group will add this suggestion to its official list of recommendations.
If the state actually adopts this proposal, the initial market for marijuana would skyrocket beyond initial estimates of $1 billion, possibly doubling or even tripling that number and leading to thousands of new jobs.
The possibilities are endless in such a scenario, as visitors from all over the country – and possibly from all over the world – would flock to the state specifically to purchase and use marijuana. Cannabis could easily become a top tourist draw, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax into state coffers and rivaling Colorado’s $2.5 billion-$3 billion skiing industry. Visitors would not only buy cannabis and related products, they would also spend money on hotels, food and entertainment.
The task force will recommend that only Colorado residents can open retail marijuana stores. Anyone wanting to actually produce or sell marijuana for adult use, therefore, would have to live in the state for at least two years to gain residency. That would keep most of the profits in-state. However, there would be plenty of opportunities for other entrepreneurs and companies to capitalize by offering ancillary products and services to both retail shops and consumers.
It sounds almost too good to be true, and in fact it just might be: The proposal is sure to create a huge amount of controversy and debate, and the state could very well shoot down the recommendation. Locals are worried about the impact on crime, quality of life and other issues. Allowing out-of-state visitors to buy marijuana with little to no restrictions would also invite heavy scrutiny by the federal government. The Obama administration would no doubt be concerned about the diversion of marijuana to other states and the likelihood that Colorado would become a hub for global marijuana tourism similar to the Netherlands. Even if the state approves cannabis tourism, the feds could intervene and prevent that from happening.
To offset some of these concerns, the Colorado marijuana task force recommended that the state set a limit on how much marijuana visitors could purchase from any one dispensary. Doing so, task force members say, would make it more difficult and time-consuming to stockpile large amounts of marijuana to sell in other states.
Expect opponents of the idea to poke many holes in this notion and the idea of marijuana tourism in general. But the fact that a task force that includes law enforcement and political officials wants to move forward with the idea is significant.