Since the voters approved I-502 in 2012, Washington State has made tremendous progress in establishing a safe, legal and appropriately regulated recreational marijuana industry. In July, the state’s legacy medical marijuana businesses were integrated into the new recreational system, creating a seamless, unitary system that provides all responsible Washington State adults access to marijuana, regardless of whether they need it for medicinal purposes or consume it for recreation.
Now, the time has come to consider how to build on that foundation to allow our emerging marijuana industry to realize its full potential to contribute to our state’s economy. With some minor and carefully considered changes to state and local law, we can establish a vibrant marijuana tourism industry in our state that will draw tens of thousands of new visitors here, from across the country and even internationally, drawn by the opportunity to gather with like-minded folks to consume marijuana recreationally.
The economic potential is, to put it mildly, enormous. As Tobias Coughlin-Bogue wrote in The Stranger recently, “Denver’s cannabis tourism economy is thriving… potheads are gallivanting about the city, dabbing on minibuses, visiting cannabis concierges, and reclining poolside with joints at cannabis-friendly hotels… but [there are] no such businesses in Washington State.”
Coughlin-Bogue adds that in Colorado, where the marijuana laws are more tourism friendly, April 20th (4/20) drew hordes of visitors to the state, boosting monthly marijuana revenues to record levels. And all of those visitors stay in hotels or short-term rentals, eat in restaurants, and spend freely of their disposable income at local businesses, so the positive economic ripple effect is clear.
A recent study in Colorado found that nearly a quarter of the visitors to Colorado this year said the availability of legalized marijuana was “extremely influential” in their decision to visit the state. That amounts to more than $4 billion additional dollars spent in the state because to its pot tourism-friendly policies.
We aren’t experiencing a similar boom in Washington State because our state law currently does not allow any opportunity for marijuana fans to gather together and partake of their substance of choice. Unlike in Colorado, restrictive regulations keep local hotels and other businesses in Seattle from providing marijuana smoking rooms or marketing themselves as pot-friendly.
Denver, by contrast, has more than a dozen marijuana-friendly hotels and there are another dozen or so “social lounges” in the state where people gather and partake. This November, Denver voters will be deciding on a local initiative that will allow marijuana businesses to apply for licenses to create public consumption spaces on thier premises, which is going take Colorado’s pot tourism economy to the next level.
The Washington state ban on any public consumption of marijuana in safe, regulated consumption venues on private property, out of sight of the general public, is only pushing consumption out onto our streets and in other inappropriate public spaces, as anyone who has walked around downtown Seattle or visited many of our parks can attest. Creating the opportunities for private lounges in discreet, well-ventilated spaces would not only boost our economy, it will better meet the needs of both cannabis enthusiasts and non-users as well.
The responsible, regulated marijuana retailers represented by the Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments (CORE) are well positioned to provide such spaces in conjunction with our retail businesses. The basic rules would be the same for tourists as for local residents: only those 21 and over could enter and use marijuana products, and purchasers would be limited to the same quantities that exist under current law. The number of these spaces would be limited – and closely regulated.
Enacting the necessary legislative change in Olympia will not be easy, but there is a pathway. If stakeholders, including CORE and its members, progressive elected officials like Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and Mayor Ed Murray, and representatives of the hotel and tourism industry come together on this issue, we can create a powerful coalition to convince Olympia legislators that the time to act is now, before larger states like California legalize cannabis under more tourism-friendly rules.
Let’s not lose this opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of Washington State residents currently safely consume legal, recreational marijuana in there own homes. There is no good reason why these grown ups should not be allowed to come together – along with visitors drawn by our pot-friendly culture – to consume marijuana socially in regulated spaces. It’s not only the right thing to do, the potential economic upside is enormous.
Logan Bowers is the President of the Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments (CORE), the trade association for Washington State marijuana retailers, and a co-owner of Hashtag in Fremont. Kc. Franks is a CORE board member and the owner of Stash in Lake City.