Colorado and Washington becoming the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana prompted speculation Wednesday about Amsterdam-style "drug tourism" and a new round of jokes about Colorado's official state song, Rocky Mountain High.
The Colorado measure limits cultivation to six marijuana plants per person, but "grow-your-own" pot would still be banned in Washington. Both states prohibit public use, and Washington includes a strict "drugged driving" provision for marijuana impairment.
Tuesday's votes are "groundbreaking," said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. But since no modern jurisdiction has lifted prohibitions on production, possession and distribution of cannabis for recreational use, he says, "There are two big issues: Do the states want a marijuana tourism industry, and if so would the federal government allow it?"
Richard Scharf, CEO of tourism organization Visit Denver, worries that an influx of pot-seeking tourists could tarnish the city's and state's images. In 2005, Denver became the first major city in the USA to legalize adult marijuana possession of less than 1 ounce.
"Tourism is the second-largest industry in both Denver and Colorado. If Colorado receives international media attention as the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana in their constitution, Colorado's brand will be damaged and we may attract fewer conventions and see a decline in leisure travel," Scharf said before the election.
Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country, a marketing organization that represents 21 ski resorts, said, "We're holding our breath, so to speak. People choose to come to Colorado for a variety of reasons, and if this is one of them, so be it," she said.
European travel guru Rick Steves, a resident of Edmonds, Wash., and vocal supporter of that state's successful initiative, said he's "honestly not looking at the tourism aspect. For the immediate future, I don't even see (marijuana) use going up."
In the Netherlands, where the incoming government has abandoned plans for a national, residents-only "weed pass" that would have effectively kept foreign tourists out of Amsterdam's famous marijuana cafes, "per capita cannabis use is about on par with the U.S., and use among young people is actually lower," Steves said. "It's a big deal for some American tourists, but Dutch people couldn't care less."
"You can't go out in public (in Washington state) with a cocktail or beer," he added, "and this won't be any different."
Meanwhile, Luis Videgaray, the main adviser to Mexico President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, said the votes legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado will complicate Mexico's commitment to quashing pot growing and smuggling.
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