60 Minutes and Visit Denver Weigh in on Whether Pot Tourism Really Exists

60 Minutes and Visit Denver Weigh in on Whether Pot Tourism Really Exists

There will be no Pot Bowl II in 2015. When the Denver Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, they ensured that last year's marijuana-themed jokes and memes surrounding the Super Bowl featuring the Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks (who hail from the only other state that had legal recreational pot in 2014) wouldn't repeat. But there was plenty of pot talk going on both before and after last Sunday's game.

At a major Denver conference for PR pros working in the higher-education industry, local experts gathered to talk about "the branding challenges of marijuana legalization."

See also: Did Marijuana Really Play No Role in Record-Setting Tourism Season?

A screen capture from last weekend's 60 Minutes segment on Colorado and pot.
A screen capture from last weekend's 60 Minutes segment on Colorado and pot.

One of numerous discussions taking place at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education four-day conference (called, coincidentally, "Higher Expectations"), the panel (which ran from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m., just before Broncos game time) included Colorado Tourism Office director Al White, Visit Denver associate communications director Deborah Park, Marijuana Industry Group director Michael Elliott, and Tracy Williams, the president of Trade Winds Communications.

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"There have been a couple of conferences that want to incorporate marijuana panels; it's new and different," says Park. And although much has been made about the concept of pot tourism, that's not something in which Visit Denver can participate. The reason, Park says, is because her organization believes the fine print in Amendment 64 prohibits Visit Denver from marketing pot to people who live out of state -- and the primary audience for Visit Denver's marketing material is made up of exactly those people.

"So we are neutral," she says. "We are Switzerland." In fact, the form that Visit Denver gives to travel writers seeking information about Denver includes the following caveat: "Visit Denver has placed a moratorium on conducting any marijuana tourism marketing in 2014, so we are unable to assist writers working on marijuana tourism-related stories. However, we can provide quotes and information on current laws."

Park says Visit Denver's board of directors recently extended that moratorium into 2015.

Deborah Park.
Deborah Park.
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"We don't know if marijuana marketing is needed or if it works," she says, adding that while the organization has no plans to conduct any studies itself, it would be willing to look at other studies done by outside groups or companies. For now, Visit Denver's role is simply to "make sure people understand what they can and can't do...what the laws are," Park says. So the organization's website has a terse page that does just that, along with providing links to information elsewhere.

Search for "marijuana" or "cannabis" on Colorado.com, the state's official web portal for tourism, and you're sent to the City of Denver's rules for retail marijuana use.

But even if Visit Denver and the Colorado Tourism office have chosen to ignore pot tourism, local industries haven't. On Sunday night -- just after the Broncos game -- 60 Minutes rolled out a package called "The Marijuana Effect," which checked in on Colorado a year after retail sales of pot were legalized here.

In the piece, wide-eyed reporter Bill Whitaker covered various cannabis angles -- expanding on them along with his producer in a couple of online sidebars. In one of them, Whitaker discussed pot tourism specifically, and in particular, its overlap with ski tourism. "The folks who handle all the statistics in Colorado will tell you they have no hard and fast numbers as to what is happening as far as marijuana tourism [goes]," Whitaker said. "They can't tell you whether people are coming to town or coming to the state just to partake. But there is some anecdotal evidence. We've heard that up in the ski areas, up around the ski resorts, the dispensaries up there are selling 90 percent of the marijuana product to people from out of state."

60 Minutes also went for a ride-along on a smoke-and-ride bus tour designed for tourists. No wonder Whitaker was so wide-eyed.

Here's the 60 Minutes segment, followed by an extra online video.


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