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SALEM, Ore. — For a birthday bash final summer season, a bunch of pals in Oregon rented a bus that wheeled them round Portland while they smoked weed, drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and cranked the Snoop Dogg.
They hit a few bars that night, but the vibe on the “Potlandia Experience” bus was way better than anything outside.
“It turned into a mobile dance party,” said Sweet Summers, who was celebrating her 36th birthday.
April 20 used to give tourists ample reason to hop a flight to the few scattered places with legal marijuana. To be sure, Colorado remains a big draw, with tens of thousands of attendants expected at Denver’s annual 420 celebration this year.
But with more states legalizing recreational pot, consumers have been able to stay closer to home, making the day less important to tourism.
The Potlandia Experience is one attraction on a growing list entrepreneurs are dreaming up, from a cannabis spa in Denver to a 24-foot-tall bong in Las Vegas.
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“If these follow the paths of wine-tourism ideas, which attract all sorts of people, and break out of catering to the marijuana culture, they could become a big deal for the economies of legal-pot areas,” said Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Oregon.
“If there is something like a Wine Road for pot shops and grow operations, that will be a sign that the marijuana tour business is more than just a small niche market,” he said.
The Potlandia Experience was started by Camille Gonzalez, who also runs a wine-tour operation in Oregon’s vineyard-rich Willamette Valley.
“The people on the pot tours are looking for a party,” she said. “The wine tours, it’s more of an all-day experience. It’s a little more laid back. It’s not so much about the vehicle as it is about the scenery.”
The pot party bus, a converted airport shuttle, seats 14, with perforated decals on its windows offering privacy while allowing occupants to see outside. Fog from a machine escapes when the doors open.
“The gregarious personalities that my husband and I have, we couldn’t just have a bus that gives pot tours. We had to have the most sick pot bus out there,” Gonzalez said. “This bus is dope.”
The Potlandia Experience lasts four hours and 20 minutes and takes customers to local marijuana stores, a brewery and food carts to beat back the munchies. It costs $75 a head or $125 an hour for at least four hours for private bus rentals.
Gonzalez said customers can use marijuana on the bus. A ceiling exhaust fan helps with smoke, and a shield is in place to protect the driver from inhaling it.
“It’s a fun day,” Gonzalez said. “It’s educational.”
Bed and breakfasts to a cannabis spa
Because of strict laws against using weed in public, cannabis consumers have few places to go for an experience similar to bars for those who drink alcohol.
Those same laws also can stifle opportunities for tourism.
So some Oregon residents have transformed their houses into bed and breakfasts that allow tourists to use marijuana on private property.
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One host is Russ Belville, whose Portland home doubles as a studio for his podcast, The Marijuana Agenda.
“In our house, the smoking of marijuana isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged,” said Belville. Guests have traveled from across the U.S., as well as international locales such as Singapore and Sudan. When they arrive in Portland, he said, they’re “amazed” at the bed and breakfast’s and city’s openness to marijuana.
Policymakers also are slowly loosening social-use restrictions. In 2016, voters in Denver OK’d Initiative 300, laying the groundwork for businesses to obtain licenses that let consumers 21 and older use marijuana in approved spaces.
The Potlandia Experience bus can seat up to 14 people. The driver’s seat of the bus is partitioned from the main cabin, where customers can smoke marijuana as it rolls through Portland, Ore., on a tour of local marijuana stores, a brewery and food carts. (Photo: Molly J. Smith, (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal)
Entrepreneurs are working with Denver city officials to create what is believed to be the first-ever licensed cannabis spa, called Utopia, inside a historic Capitol Hill mansion. It will offer massages with marijuana-infused oils, “ganja yoga” and spaces where tourists can smoke marijuana.
“It’s about medical freedom as much as anything,” said Utopia Chief Executive Cindy Sovine.
Colorado’s anti-smoking laws — along with rules against public marijuana consumption — mean visitors to Denver at times are challenged to find places where they can legally consume cannabis.
Sovine expects the spa to serve patients, locals and tourists, opening by late summer 2018 and employing between two and four full-time staff.
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“I think it will be just an amazing place for the rest of the world to look at what a good social-use, regulated business looks like,” she said.
During the day, the spa will offer guests group meditation, yoga and healing-circle-style activities. Come nighttime, however, members can enjoy “puff and paint,” comedy acts and karaoke.
“We want them to be able to come here for their exercise, for their relaxation and for their socialization,” Sovine said.
Colorado was among the first of nine states — Alaska, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Vermont and Washington, along with Washington D.C.— to legalize recreational weed.
For April 20, “everybody flocked to Colorado early on,” said Matt Karnes, founder of cannabis data firm GreenWave Advisors in New York. But now that consumers have more states to choose from, the number of 420 tourists is probably decreasing, he said.
Combined retail sales in Colorado, Oregon and Washington on April 20 are poised to surpass last year’s, increasing from $10.7 million in 2017 to $12.3 million in 2018, according to GreenWave estimates.
It’s unclear how much stems from tourism.
Weed museum coming to Las Vegas
Recreational marijuana sales kicked off in Nevada last year, but plans already are in place for Cannabition, an “immersive cannabis museum,” to open this July in downtown Las Vegas, with ticket prices beginning at $4.20.
Founder J.J. Walker envisions the space as a mix of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland with a bit of a modern-art museum flavor.
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Museum officials hope to capitalize on the Instagram crowd with photo-friendly set-pieces: Imagine a THC seed guests can sit in or a 24-foot-high bong with a nearby staircase leading to the top, offering the perfect angle to snap a shot taking a fake hit.
The bong is slated for construction this month in Seattle. Cannabition customers won’t get to use it with real weed for now. But Walker’s team plans to work with city officials to see how it could be rented for private events such as weddings.
Walker said: “The bong will be 100% hittable.”
Contributing: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY. Follow Jonathan Bach on Twitter: @jonathanmbach
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