Marijuana: Would Amendment 64 hurt or help Colorado tourism?

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Update: A response from the official Amendment 64 campaign on the tourism question follows our original post, below.

Would Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, hinder Colorado tourism or boost it?

With election day finally here, there's still no consensus on the question. Note that Denver officials are on one side of the issue, while a presidential candidate and famous travel writer Rick Steves feel differently.

In an interview with our Sam Levin, Denver mayor Michael Hancock ripped Amendment 64 on a number of grounds, including a possible negative impact on tourism.

"We already have evidence that we are losing some of our ground or some of our attractiveness to conventioneers, tourists, because of the medical marijuana leeway that's been afforded in this city," he said. These thoughts are echoed by Visit Denver's Richard Scharf. Last month, when Hancock came forward in opposition to Amendment 64, Scharf, the president and CEO of the tourism organization, released the following statement:

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.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson couldn't disagree more. Continue to read more about Amendment 64 and tourism. In a recent Q&A with Levin, former New Mexico governor Johnson, who endorsed Amendment 64 earlier this year and has made frequent mention of his support since then, responded to a question about whether passage of the act would mar Colorado's reputation with this comment:

So here's what I'm saying all across the country. What's going to happen in Colorado if Colorado votes yes on this: Everybody in the entire country is gonna get on an airplane and go to Denver and chill out. Everybody else is going to pick up on that, and Colorado won't be the [only state] for long. I would always say this in New Mexico to those that would say, look, we are going to become the drug mecca for the world. You mean the millions of entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors and professionals that would move to New Mexico for legal marijuana? Colorado has that opportunity right now.

Renowned travel writer Rick Steves has his own slant on the issue. As noted in a USA Today article, Steves is a vocal supporter of Initiative 502, a marijuana measure on the ballot in Washington state. However, he expresses doubts as to whether Washington would become what's described as a "magnet for stoner tourists" should voters bless the proposal.

His backing, then, is based on a simpler theory, as well as experience. He says the time he's spent in Europe makes him conclude that taxing and regulating pot is better than banning it.

Regarding his role as a spokesman for the cause, he's quoted as saying, "That's the fun of all this. If it was Snoop Dogg, it would be one thing. But it's Rick Steves. He's a nice guy. A businessman. We're saying this is not for kids. This is about civil liberties, (and) if a guy wants to light up a joint and stare at the fire inside his house for two hours, then he should be able to do that."

What are the odds such an opportunity could soon be legal in Colorado? Last week, Intrade, an online trading exchange, put the odds of Amendment 64 winning approval at 68 percent. At this writing, the number is up to 80 percent. with Initiative 502 given an 87.5 percent shot at victory.

By this time tomorrow, we should know whose bet has paid off.

Update, 10:14 a.m. November 6: Moments ago, we heard from Amendment 64 spokeswoman Betty Aldworth in response to the question of whether passage of the act would help or hurt Colorado tourism. In her view, suggestions by Denver mayor Michael Hancock and Visit Denver's Richard Scharf that tourism has been hurt by Colorado's medical marijuana industry are unfounded.

"Visit Denver's own statistics demonstrate that tourism and conventions continue to rise in Colorado as we experience the regulation of medical marijuana," she says. "Unless they're willing to present evidence to the contrary, I have a very difficult time believing that the regulation of an adult-use marijuana market would have a negative impact on tourism in Colorado."

Does she believe the act's approval would boost tourism?

"If we pass Amendment 64 today," she replies, "we will live in a state where our law-enforcement resources are dedicated to pursuing violent and otherwise serious crime, and where greater tax revenues can be dedicated to making our cities more beautiful and safer. And those things contribute to making Colorado a wonderful place to visit."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Amendment 64 given 68 percent chance of passing by Intrade."

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