Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Colorado's tourism boosters stonewall any stoner questions

Monday was Tourism Day at the State Capitol, and when boosters said the numbers looked good, that the industry was healthy, they weren't blowing smoke.

But then, they didn't mention marijuana at all. Think of it as the big pink elephant in the room — if you really want to treat cannabis like alcohol, which the majority of voters in this state apparently do. Still, while the state's big tourism sites —,, — all tout restaurant and nightlife opportunities, they remain silent on the subject of pot.

The rest of the state — and visitors to Colorado — are doing plenty of talking, though.

I was in Vail for a wedding last weekend, and at the same time that people were marveling over the clear blue sky and the champagne powder, they were wondering where they could get a true Rocky Mountain high. Which no longer means simply taking the lift to the top of the mountain. No, the out-of-towners — whether barely legal or barely walking — wanted to know where they could get some of that recreational marijuana. The answer was not in Vail (not officially, at least); the town has banned retail sales.

Even so, one Christine Arakelian of New York was so cranky about the prospect of legal cannabis in Colorado that last month she wrote to Vail Resorts, warning that she did not plan to return. "As you are aware, marijuana is now legal in Colorado. I have been visiting Vail and Beaver Creek for many years now with my family, and enjoyed all my years here with no real problems. We have a lot of memories here. Within the span of several days, my son and I were exposed to numerous conversations on buses, gondola rides and restaurants related to recreational drug use.... I had at least three to four separate occasions in public areas where I had to specifically ask people to not talk about their drug use. People were obviously put off by my asking them to stop, and I was furious to even be put in this situation." So furious, in fact, that she plans to vacation elsewhere in the future: "You can't be a destination resort for high-earners and a pot-town at the same time — you have to choose."

When they read Arakelian's letter at, hundreds of commenters quickly made their choice: They hope she enjoys skiing in Utah.

While Vail would rather have pricey art galleries than pot shops, ganjapreneurs see other parts of Eagle County as a target-rich — very rich — environment. Colorado Cannabis Co. has proposed creating Rocky Mountain Pure Retail Marijuana, a $5 million marijuana superstore, on a five-acre parcel in Eagle. The project would include a 6,000-square-foot retail store, a 22,500-square-foot indoor cultivation facility, a 45,000-square-foot greenhouse operation, a 3,600-square-foot extraction laboratory, and a 3,750-square-foot Prohibition museum; there's a public hearing on the proposal set for February 11. Colorado Cannabis already employs thirty people at its various enterprises in Denver; this effort would dwarf those ventures.

If Rocky Mountain Pure goes through, will its Prohibition museum include a copy of Arakelian's letter? And will the museum be listed in all the tourism guides alongside the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens? By so carefully avoiding any discussion of marijuana, the boosters are actually emphasizing it. If the state won't set the agenda, Maureen Dowd can write a New York Times column making Coloradans all look like a bunch of nudist stoners, and no one in New York City will be any the wiser.

Tourism leaders would be smart to take a factual, fun, slightly tongue- (and maybe bite of special brownie) in-cheek approach to the realities of recreational marijuana. They could take a cue from the Denver County Fair, which just announced its Pot Pavilion, complete with a Doritos-eating contest that echoes Governor John Hickenlooper's Cheetos and Goldfish comment on the night Amendment 64 passed. That comment had just the right tone; it's a shame the state let it go in a puff of smoke.

Those boosters could even create a Cannabis Colorado sightseeing tour: Civic Center Park and Norlin Quad, the locations of this state's most notorious 4/20 smoke-ins; the ballfield on Welton Street where Neal Cassady smoked weed, influencing a generation of Beats and generations of Beat wannabes; the best little smoke shack at Mary Jane, the most aptly named ski area in the state; the windows of 3D, the dispensary that was the first to sell recreational marijuana, one of the first to really see this industry's opportunities in a state that's always been on the frontier.

And then they can end the tour in LoDo at let-out, when the streets are filled with people soon to see pink elephants.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun