When Colorado legalised cannabis possession in 2014, the anticipated ‘Green Rush’ of dope tourists didn’t quite happen. But the first stoners’ B&B in Denver is now leading the way.
When Colorado’s Amendment 64 took effect in January 2014, effectively legalising marijuana, hordes of tourists flocked to the state to try the barely legal drug – only to find there was nowhere to smoke it.
Though adults aged 21 or over can legally possess up to an ounce of retail marijuana, strict regulations make it difficult to consume without breaking the law. As with the open container laws covering alcohol, marijuana cannot be smoked in public. While some cigar shops enjoy immunity from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which prevents smoking in public establishments, those rules do not extend to pot shops. Ganga-preneurs are forbidden from opening “bud bars” and smoking in dispensaries is likewise illegal. National parks adhere to federal law, which makes cannabis camping tricky, too. Breaking marijuana laws can result in thousands of dollars in fines and jail time. In short, Denver is hardly an all-American Amsterdam. This poses problems for hash-hungry travellers without a friend’s couch to crash on.
Enter Joel and Lisa Schneider, owners of the Mary Jane Group, which is leading the way in “the canna-lifestyle hospitality sector”. They run The Adagio Bud + Breakfast in downtown Denver. Unlike a hotel with a public lobby, a privately owned bed and breakfast can allow customers to legally consume marijuana products on their private premises. The Adagio opened in 2014, effectively cornering the market.
Entering the Adagio feels almost disappointingly normal. Complete with crown moulding, chandeliers and a grand piano, the gorgeous Victorian home (built in 1892) is hardly a drug den. In fact, apart from the enshrined Jerry Garcia memorabilia and blown-glass bong roughly the size of an adult blue whale, you might never know its secret. No one’s breaking bad in here.
Upper-echelon customers travel from all over the world to spend $179-$399 a night on the handsome rooms. Guests enjoy decidedly decadent Wake + Bake breakfasts: eggs and coffee, or peanut butter and banana-stuffed French toast with candied bacon. And at 4.20pm each day, there are happy-hour munchies. Smoking is not allowed in the rooms, so everyone smokes in the common area. This creates an unusual bond between guests, like a glorified adult youth hostel. Rather than feeling forced together for an awkward breakfast, guests sit for hours, waxing poetic together – an immaculate house party. It also allows for the owners to keep an eye on folks. “It feels like mom’s house … except you can get high on the couch,” noted one glassy-eyed businessman.
Due to complicated laws, the Adagio cannot sell marijuana, so guests bring their own. There’s a station of bongs, pipes and other paraphernalia complete with an empty plate for people to share their bud – it’s rarely empty. Because it’s illegal to travel out of state with marijuana, guests often leave their leftovers upon departure.
The Adagio looks pretty squeaky clean behind the scenes, too. Though you might imagine the owners to be pungent trustafarians in rumpled clothes, the Schneiders are anything but. Joel is a former corporate lawyer, and Lisa finalised property transactions. “We’re the goody two-shoes of the industry,” says Lisa, who personally doesn’t touch marijuana. They’re here for the so-called “Green Rush”, the expected tourist boom created by the new pot laws. The Mary Jane Group has two more locations: a small, Grateful Dead-themed location in Silverthorne, and an 11-room lodge in Colorado Springs that functions more like a hotel. Due to county regulations Silverthorne can offer a bud bar, and both locations have a smoking common area. Schneider is hunting for more Colorado properties, and considering going into partnership with a casino in Washington state. He envisions a network of resorts and “canna-camps”: playgrounds for adults to explore their affected senses. There will be puff, pass ’n’ paint classes; cannabis golf tournaments; a spa where THC enhances massage and takes the edge off your bikini wax. “I want to be the Walt Disney of cannabis,” he states proudly.
The Dopiest Place on Earth? A noble dream, some might say. But it’s a rocky road to the top of that mountain – the Schneiders can’t even get a bank loan. National banks won’t touch cannabis-affiliated companies, and advertising proves difficult, as platforms such as Google and Facebook refuse their business. They’ve even had a visit from an undercover cop, which resulted in a small fine. “Pot is legal here, but not everyone likes that, and they’re going to make it as difficult as possible,” says Lisa.
The Colorado Tourism Office has no interest in self-identifying as “The Green State”, despite the projected $1bn the marijuana market will generate in Coloradonext year. Nevertheless, this is a, erm, budding industry, with new businesses popping up like, well, weeds. Denver-based My 420 Tours offers four-hour dispensary and grow tours, with smoke-friendly limousines and buses from $129pp, and a three-day “cannabis vacation” with stays in Denver hotels that allow marijuana vaping in the rooms, from $1,295. Colorado Green Tours offers marijuana-friendly ski packages.
Companies assume existing business models, add pot, and voila! The Airbnb-inspired TravelTHC offers holiday rentals where guests can smoke in strangers’ houses and retire to a marijuana-infused chocolate on their pillow.
“This is just the beginning,” says Joel Schneider. He’s right – with allies like the Mary Jane Group and petitions for the legalisation of bud bars being passed around like joints at a Snoop Dogg concert, stoners have hope that one day, in this great nation, they can smoke the weed they legally bought.