DENVER (CN) – Business and police are preparing for thousands of tourists to flock to Denver for the annual 4/20 marijuana holiday.
Hotels.com saw a 60 percent spike in online room searches for Denver for April 17 to 20, the 4/20 week: a day of celebration for marijuana enthusiasts. And that’s after last year’s online searches for the abbreviated week were 73 percent higher than the previous year.
Deborah Park, a spokeswoman for Visit Denver, would not attribute the numbers entirely to cannabis. “When people come into the city, they will go to a recreational marijuana location. But it’s like shopping – one of those things they do while they’re here. They’re not making their trip around it,” she said.
But Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana does appear to have boosted Denver’s popularity for tourists. Hotel and motel tax collections have increased by 21 percent since 2013 (about $19.6 million). Denver was the 14th most popular domestic tourist destination in 2014. In 2012, the year before Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, Denver was ranked 19th.
While Denver has always been popular for its ski industry, mountains and hiking trails, its marijuana attractions have become a staple. There are “weed tours,” where out-of-state smokers are chauffeured to dispensaries and grow labs (after which they may legally get high in a limo ride through town).
There’s marijuana-friendly speed-dating and cannabis-cooking classes. Denver tourism has embraced “420” – police code for “marijuana smoking in progress” – which has become a universal code for cannabis culture.
Not everyone in Denver has jumped on the marijuana bandwagon. National hotel chains have yet to target this new demographic. But many Colorado bed & breakfasts, hotels, and individually leased rooms have gone after the tourist buck.
The First Inn, in Pagosa Springs, was one of the first hotels to advertise its marijuana-friendly policy.
“We allow the consumption inside the rooms for a number of rooms here,” Andrew Parker, a First Inn employee, said. “They’re free to just come here and consume without looking over their shoulder.”
Most pro-pot hotels designate areas for pot smoking. Some also offer outside spaces that are cannabis-friendly, such as balconies, gardens and walkways.
Bud & Breakfast, a hotel with Denver and Silverthorne outlets, has a back patio and first floor for smoking. They also provide the equipment.
“We have a selection of [smoking] glass that is here for our guests when they check in,” Sarah Rodkey, a Bud & Breakfast hostess, says. “They go buy their product, then they come to us, and they can smoke in the house, on our first floor, as well as on our back patio.
“We have different pipes and bowls and bongs. We clean [the glass] every night, so they’re always fresh. We have a full selection of papers and lighters.”
The bed and breakfast is booked solid for 4/20 week.
“We always have a few cancellations here and there,” Rodkey said, “but those spots completely fill up. We have a lot of repeat guests coming for 420 from last year, which is cool, too.”
The festival may create a pot headache for police. The City Council has issued permits for the 420 Festival, whose music and outdoor activities are expected to draw more than 50,000 people this year. Police patrols will be increased, particularly at the 420 Festival in Civic Center Park.
The City Council and police worry that out-of-staters may not understand that public consumption is still forbidden.
By law, people can carry up to an ounce of pot, but may not smoke it in public. Colorado residents can buy up to an ounce at a time, but out of staters only ¼ oz., and may not consume it in or around a marijuana dispensary.
Any public location is considered off-limits, with exceptions for some businesses, such as the 420 tours and hotels, which can create a legal environment for smoking.
It is legal to be high in public – smokers simply have to get high in a designated, private area, and cannot drive under the influence.
“I just hope they will follow our rules and regulations,” City Councilman Charlie Brown said. “They’re clear in our constitution and they’re clear in our ordinance that we worked so hard on last year.”
As 4/20 is on a Monday, the festival will be a weekend event. Denver Police will enforce a deadline for festival organizers to tear down their stages and fences by noon on Monday, to avoid the smoking tradition of having a mass toke at 4:20 p.m. on April 20.
“Obviously, we expect plenty of people to come down anyway,” Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson said. “We’ll be staffed appropriately and will take appropriate measures that day.”
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