By: Cecil King
Missourians Hit the Road for Cannabis
As another tourism season begins in the Show-Me state, Missouri Legislators may hear a giant “whooshing” sound.
That’s the sound of hundreds of thousands of dollars heading to the exit doors from Missouri’s economy destined for the legal cannabis markets of Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Later this summer retail cannabis outlets in Alaska will open.
Missouri’s sleepy legislators have yet to awaken to the new “green rush” cannabis economy. Their inattentiveness are leaving millions of tourist dollars up for grabs by these cannabis-legal states. One of Missouri canatourists’ top destinations is Colorado.
Denver’s “green mile,” the mile-long stretch of South Broadway in downtown Denver, has at least nine retail cannabis stores at last count. To reach that section of road you’ll travel a little over 600 miles from Kansas City and over 850 miles from Saint Louis, Missouri.
But driving that distance for many Missourians is a small inconvenience for a visit to the “land of milk and honey” to buy legal cannabis. Cannatourists purchase more than 40% of the legal cannabis for sale in Colorado. In the heavily tourist trafficked central mountain resort corridors 90% of cannabis purchases are from out-of-state visitors.
“This is our fourth visit to Colorado since legalization,” says Trisha and Andy, a baby boomer husband and wife from St. Louis. Both are a few years from retirement and have been avid cannabis enthusiasts for years. “We prefer to go south to Pueblo.” Avoiding the high-priced hotels and large city congestion of Denver is a good strategy for these cannatourists.
“We stay in Colorado Springs, but that city is very conservative and there are no retail sales,” explains Andy, “the vibe is better in Pueblo.” Like many cities in Colorado after Amendment 64 passed in 2012, a city moratorium banned cannabusinesses from opening retail shops.
Colorado Springs’ city council members were afraid Amendment 64 would negatively affect tourism and their ability to keep nearby military bases. Amendment 64 passed statewide and in Colorado Springs by a 4,947 vote margin. However, the City Council of Colorado Springs voted on July 23rd, 2013 to negate the people’s will and banned metro retail sales of recreational marijuana.
Private cannabis clubs operate and thrive there through a “loophole” in the law. The state doesn’t regulate the private cannabis clubs. Medical cannabis is only available with a Colorado medical red card in Colorado Springs.
The one-quarter ounce purchase limit for tourists per retail outlet visit isn’t a problem says Andy. “My wife and I can both buy a quarter ounce each per visit,” and after the couple leaves the premises, “we jump in the car, drive around the block and go inside again and buy another quarter ounce each. We’ve done this up to four times,” explains Andy.
In the new Colorado cannabis business model, edibles are the fastest growing product group, and Andy and Trisha agree. “The infused elixirs, sparkling waters and sodas are on the expensive side at around $20.00 per bottle and very strong,” offers Andy, “the first time I drank a half bottle and it nearly took my head off, but they are refreshing and unique.”
Leaving Colorado with any cannabis product is illegal and the consequences are harsh, but Trisha says “we’ve brought cannabis back to Missouri in every trip we’ve taken. I guess we just don’t fit the profile to be stopped because nobody gave us a second look.”
Two other St. Louisans have a bit of a different take on traveling from Colorado with cannabis. Bill and Margo, both enjoying early retirement, have traveled to Colorado for many years, even before legalization passed. Earlier this summer while returning from a trip to Durango and visiting several cannabis retail stores along the way they decided to switch off driving duties for the long trek across Kansas.
After pulling over to the side of the road, Margo settled into the driver’s seat. That’s when Bill noticed the trooper in the distance.
“I threw everything we were carrying out of the car as fast as I could,” said Bill. “The trooper stopped, but simply wanted to know if we were broken down and needed help.” After the officer left, Bill and Margo picked up their “meds” off the side of the road and continued on to St. Louis without further incident.
Kerry and Lynne from Columbus, MO along with two of their friends decided to take the ultimate trip to the heart of Denver’s cannabis district.
“We took a pot tour,” says Lynne, referring to Denver-based Colorado Cannabis Tours founded by Michael Eymer. “You get on a bus with a bunch of other curious and slightly nervous out-of-towners. I didn’t know what to expect at first, but after they passed a bong around… that broke the ice and we got to know our fellow tour mates a lot better,” continued Lynne.
Their day tour on a chauffeured party bus included some of the most visible retail cannabis shops on “New Broadsterdam” oftentimes called “the Green Mile”.
One of the highlights of the tour says Lynne is an exclusive visit to Medicine Man Dispensary, the largest single cannabis facility in Colorado. Medicine Man does not offer public tours, so this is a real treat for Missouri cannatourists. Their expansive grow operation produced three and a half tons of cannabis for sale last year.
Of the approximately one million sq ft of real estate that Colorado’s marijuana businesses now occupy, Missourians ready to hit the road for cannabis to Colorado will have plenty of retail outlets to choose.
Every dollar spent by Missouri tourists in Colorado for hotels, tours, food, activities and cannabis products is gone forever from the Show-Me state’s economy.