Welcome to the Jungle: Pot Tourism
"Birthday girl gets greens!" declares Mike Eymer, before passing his large bong from one end of the white Hummer limousine to Jenna, the quiet blonde sitting at the other. She lights up timidly, gulps down and passes it to her mother, Carol, as she exhales, filling the back of the limo with a cloud of smoke.
Carol, who lives in Florida, decided to surprise Jenna for her 22nd birthday by flying her from Oregon, where she goes to college, to Denver for a marijuana tour.
"The first clue was my landing time," says Jenna, her eyelids already drooping after one hit.
"Her flight got in at 4:20," says Carol smiling.
Jenna and Carol are two out of the four day-trippers (not including us) on the inaugural Colorado Cannabis Tours, of the many groups attempting to capitalize on Colorado's brand new, legal recreational marijuana industry.
There’s a strong and convincing contingent of groups—like Eymer's version, which at $120 per person is the least expensive—who claim to be “Colorado’s First Cannabis Tour.” The most popular, thanks to an Anderson Cooper special, is Rocky Mountain High Tours, offering a luxury limousine ride, and a gourmet lunch in effort to cater to the “discrete, discriminating cannabis connoisseur.”
There’s also 420tours.com, a group differentiating itself with specific themed tours like a Valentine’s Day “Marijuana Love” tour, “St. Patrick’s Day green tour” and this past weekend’s #StonerBowl-themed excursion, featuring free samples of weed and a private viewing party for the big day. “Spend ‘The Big Game Weekend’ in Denver experiencing both our legal cannabis industry and the excitement over the Broncos’ first trip to the big game since 1998,” the description on the web site reads.
The Colorado Tourism industry declined to comment on the weed wheels rolling through town, but released a statement that reads: “The Colorado Tourism Office has positioned Colorado as a premier four-season destination and the organization has no plans to use the legalization of the drug to promote the state.”
We first meet Eymer in downtown Denver at the Cheba Hut, a Quiznos-like Colorado chain where the sandwiches are named after strains of weed like Jamaican Red, Chronic and Kush. (A munches stop, for sure.) The bearded and shaggy-haired 30-something man is dressed head-to-toe in denim, an 'I Heart NY' shirt peeking out from under his paisley cowboy button down. He and his tour group—Jenna, Carol plus Mariah and Gypsy, two forty-something Texans in town for a "girls weekend”—have already finished eating their sandwiches by the time we arrive. They’re ready to carry on with the tour, which includes an overview of the industry, via stops at a dispensary, a glass blowing studio, and a grow house.
"Let me know when you're ready to light up so I can roll up the window," says Lori, our blonde, cheerful limo driver. "Not that I don't wanna get high with you, but I can't."
As the Colorado law is so new, its stipulations still aren't fully understood. Eymer figures that if the windows are rolled up while he passes the bong between destinations, that’s not technically public consumption. This philosophy quickly transforms our ride into a long, white roving chimney.
Eymer points to a pot leaf decal on the window. "That could be a liability."
The bong changes hands from Carole to Mariah and then Gypsy, rotating clockwise around the back of the limo as we make our way to our first destination.
Green Solutions was one of Denver's 17 medical dispensaries to switch over to recreational sales in time for the January 1st debut. Twenty-five days after opening its doors to the pot-smoking public, Green Solutions still has a line that extends out into the parking lot.
Our initial embarrassment over pulling up to the popular dispensary in a white Hummer limo quickly dissipates as we are greeted by friendly fellow customers.
"This is the nicest shop in town," a regular named Jose tells us as we join him in line. The 22-year-old Chipotle cook says he comes to Green Solutions five times a week. "It's a Willy Wonka factory in there."
To us, it’s more like a Starbucks for stoners. We follow the line inside through a quiet, dentist office-like reception area where IDs are checked. Miley Cyrus plays on surround-sound as customers peruse the merchandise (ashtrays, t-shirts, pot leaf-shaped chess sets) and watch six different live streams of the marijuana plants at Green Solution’s growhouse on a flat screen TV, while waiting to be individually escorted around the room by a smiling "budtender.”
Pipes, hash oils and all kinds of edibles—from cookies to sour candies to granola—sit behind a glass case like pre-made sandwiches. A separate display featuring actual weed is organized by strain (like alcohol with labels such as “top shelf” and “private stock” with a picture of each the plant, its THC, THCV and CBD content, a description of its taste and high, and a sample nugget. (Green Solution’s hallmark strain, the “Presidential Kush,” for example, is a sativa dominant with a tropical taste and lethargic high.) A separate cashier next to the checkout counter rings up “call ahead” orders.
“I feel like such a badass,” says Gypsy, as the limo pulls out of the Green Solutions’ parking lot and onto the highway, the Rocky Mountain’s disappearing behind a cloud of smoke as she and the rest of the tourists sample their legally purchased goods. (They are not included in the price of the tour.)
The whole “education” aspect of the tour wears thin as soon as it begins. Anyone that agrees to ride around hot boxing a limo for three hours has probably smoked marijuana before. Even those that haven’t tried it likely already know what it is. Unless you have a fascination with how cannabis grows, there isn’t much more to learn. Plus, almost all of the grow rooms in Colorado are currently off-limits to the public. Some offer media access, and Medicine Man—to the group’s elation—is one of them.
“You guys have no idea how lucky you are to see this,” a giddy Eymer exclaims, making clear that he is just as much a tourist in this situation as the rest of us. (A grow visit is always included in the price of Eymer's tour, but Medicine Man's upscale facility was only made available on this occassion because we were riding along.) As Eymer runs around taking photos, Elan Nelson, Medicine Man’s business consultant of strategy and development, shows us The Green Mile: what feels like a never-ending room filled with fresh, aromatic cannabis plants, glowing from the rows of fluorescent lights overhead.
Medicine Man is one of the few dispensaries, both medical and recreational, that has its grow house onsite. And its 20,000-foot, Ikea-like warehouse—protected at all times by an armed guard—is one of the largest and most sophisticated in the area.
It’s hard to deny that the tour seemed slightly more than a rip off—especially considering the fact that without our media credentials, the group would not have been given access to the most worthwhile part (though Eymer says he is in talks with Medicine Man to include a tour of their facility at an additional cost). While Eymer would be hasty to quit his day job and try to live solely on the bong-in-limo business, Carol, Jenna, Mariah and Gypsy prove that there is some market for pot tourism—at least for now.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Colorado Cannabis Tour's Founder, Michael Eymer, and failed to mention that a grow tour is always included in the cost of one of Eymer's tours. Also, the total price of the tour was incorrectly cited as $200; the tour is $120.