As Colorado celebrates pot holiday, marijuana tourism divides state

McClatchy NewspapersApril 19, 2013 

— As marijuana users prepared for their unofficial national holiday on Saturday, Denver got a head start, with local promoters trying to showcase Colorado as a state that welcomes pot-smoking tourists after voters legalized the drug in November.

At Ganja Gourmet on South Broadway, where the pot-laced Mountain High suckers sell for $6 and an ounce of top-shelf weed goes for $280, owner Steve Horowitz made plans for his entry in Saturday’s Cannabis Cup competition: a triple-threat cheesecake made with hash oil, hash and marijuana butter.

For now, his pot is only available with a doctor’s note, as recreational marijuana hasn’t formally begun in the state. Still, he’s looking forward to getting a license and expanding his market, including by welcoming out-of-state tourists.

“This is a big week. . . . The phone’s ringing a lot, with people who want to come to Colorado and pretend they’re in Amsterdam,” said Horowitz.

And at a cooking school on Zuni Street, chef Blaine Hein showed out-of-state tourists how to use marijuana to make a gluten-free trail mix and other food as part of a private event called World Cannabis Week, which sold out quickly. It drew more than 200 visitors for four days of activities, including daily happy hours, hash-making labs, tours, parties, concerts and films, along with “legal sampling, tasting and sharing.”

“This is showing off all the things that make Colorado great,” said Matt Brown, one of two entrepreneurs organizing the event.

The highlight comes Saturday, in what organizers say will be the world’s largest marijuana rally. Tens of thousands are expected in Denver’s Civic Center park across the street from the state Capitol, which serves as an open-air marketplace for pot dealers.

While many of Colorado’s pot aficionados relish the thought of more tourism, others – including the official tourism office – say it could backfire and hurt the state’s image as a place where families can ski and hike and enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

“Our office is not going to use legalized cannabis for any marketing purposes,” said Al White, director of the Colorado state tourism office. “We feel that there’s too much to see and do in the state without having to bang that drum. And in fact, it kind of works counter to the branding effort that we’re going for to get people to recognize the healthy aspects of the state.”

He said his phone has been ringing, too, with calls from both sides, including parents who don’t want to visit the state because of its pro-marijuana culture.

Email: rhotakainen@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @HotakainenRob

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