The Price of Pot Tourism

Michelle Jackson

There are lots of ways to spend your summer vacation this year. You could stand in line for hours at the Happiest Place on Earth. You could drive for hours to take the “one foot in each state” photo op at the Four Corners. Or you could spend hours on a lounge chair at the local water park, wondering if that strange smell is the chlorine or the countless volume of kid piddle in the shallow end (spoiler alert: it isn’t the chlorine).

But if you’re looking to spend your whopping 12 days of vacation time (the average amount American workers use in a year), relaxing—like, really relaxing—now there’s pot tourism. The rise of legal recreational marijuana in nine U.S. states and Washington, D.C. means there are loads of marijuana-related activities in popular vacation destinations from Vermont to Oregon.

If you’re thinking of spending your vacation days amongst dispensaries and “Puff, Pass, and Paint” classes—you should know it might cost more than you think. Living in Colorado (the first state to legalize recreational use), I’ve seen weed go from a cottage industry to a mainstream tourism sector. From the tourist’s perspective, there’s a lot more to account for aside from typical vacation expenses, from paraphernalia purchases to the price of toking up illegally. So, before you head out, consider this:

You’re probably going to buy too much pot

 You’re in the land of legal weed and you’re understandably stoked. Just don’t let your first dispensary visit blow the rest of your vacation budget. Remember that if you over-purchase, you’re going to need to leave behind any extra cannabis products when you return home. It’s illegal to transport marijuana over state lines, even if both states have legalized what is still federally recognized as a Schedule 1 drug. You also can’t sell it to the next tourist (you’d need a license for that).

Depending on where you’re visiting, there is a limit for how much weed you can purchase per day—no matter its form. For example, in Colorado, legally, residents and tourists over 21 years old can purchase and possess up to roughly 1 ounce of pot (or 8 grams of concentrate, or 800 milligrams of edibles). But for visitors on vacation, the experts we spoke to did not endorse hitting that limit.

“We recommend that our guests try different strains similar to a flight of beer. We then recommend that you buy the smallest amount—a few grams of four different strains for a total of 4 grams,” says Cynthia Ord, marketing director for My420 Tours, the nation’s first legal marijuana vacation company.

There’s a whole Willy Wonka-esque world of edible marijuana products right now, and while you may be tempted to create your own smorgasbord, remember that for a long weekend, just one bag of sour watermelon weed candies is likely enough. Don’t believe me? Check the recommended serving size on the back of your infused food purchase—one brownie may have seven servings. A chocolate bar may have 16.

Sarah Lind, a Colorado-based clinical herbalist, former dispensary manager, and owner of S.L. Herbs, says that watching tourists trek into her dispensary, she’s often reminded of shoppers at big box stores like Target, who, overwhelmed by products, end up overspending. Resist that urge—remember, you can always come back the next day if you really need to. Not only will you save yourself from getting too high to enjoy the sights, you’ll save yourself a chunk of change, too.

There will be added costs

 For first-time visitors to a recreational marijuana state, the cost of buying through a dispensary (the name for legal marijuana shops) might come with some sticker shock. As of March 2018, the average retail cost for the best-selling strains in Colorado was $4.27 per gram, according to BDS Analytics, a cannabis-focused research firm based in Boulder, Colorado. But what you pay at the register could be higher. It all comes down to taxes. For example, vacationers in Colorado should be prepared to pay around 25 percent more than the pre-tax listed price. In California, a 15 percent excise tax is charged to the retailer (and typically passed on to the consumer). Both experts we spoke with agreed that taxes are the No. 1 expense that catches tourists off guard.

ATM withdrawal fees are another expense to consider. Because cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug, many businesses have a difficult time getting credit card companies to accept payments for cannabis-based products. Like their illegal predecessors, these marijuana purveyors tend to be cash-based, although unlike your college dealer, they typically offer an ATM on-site. Get around fees by withdrawing enough cash to cover your purchases from your bank ahead of time.

But that’s not the end of what you’ll need. If you plan to smoke the cannabis you buy, you’ll also likely need to purchase equipment and, to put it bluntly (pun intended), those accessories may not come cheap. Lind says the price to purchase an apparatus can range from $50 to $200.

Alternatively, you could look into renting a vaporizer or booking a hotel room that includes a vaporizer in the cost of the room.

Speaking of accommodations, most hotel rooms are smoke-free, and in many states where recreational pot is legal, smoking in public is not. Thus the rise of hotels and inns such as the Bud and Breakfast, a Denver-based bed-and-breakfast that specifically caters to cannabis clientele and has an outdoor communal space that guests can use to spark one up.

For venturing beyond your bud-friendly BnB, now you can sign up for all sorts of pot-based events like sushi and joint rolling classes, grow house and farm tours, and 4:20 happy hours. To keep within budget, check Groupon (seriously) before you go. For example, at the time this story was written, My420 Tours was offering a 33 percent discount through the site.

Don’t fight the law (or the law will win)

Legalizing marijuana comes with its fair share of laws.

Many visitors are unaware of the fact that it is illegal to partake of marijuana in public until they are issued a ticket for public consumption. In 2014 there was a 471 percent increase in the issuance of such tickets, according to Colorado Public Radio. If caught, you could be issued a citation along with a fine, which can set you back anywhere between $25 (D.C.) and $1,000 (Oregon). To avoid breaking the law—and annoying the locals with your endless peals of high-induced laughter—keep your consumption discrete.

Driving is another huge hurdle—both for policy makers and consumers. While driving under the influence is illegal, proving you’re driving after consuming means hauling you down to the police station for a blood test. Beyond that, states are still heavily debating what counts as under the influence, how to measure a high from edibles, and how to prove when the marijuana was actually consumed, since THC can stay in your bloodstream for days. As a vacationer who probably does not want to see the inside of a local police station, play it safe and let public transportation, taxis, or ride-sharing apps do the driving whenever weed is part of your plans.

Some of these tactics add research time and cost to your vacation, but pot tourism is a brave new frontier—and those never come cheap.