All photos courtesy of Colorado Cannabis Tours
Michael Eymer is a new breed of entrepreneur, one who’s devoted most of his adult life to the cannabis industry in some way, shape, or form. As a college student, he worked as a groundskeeper at his university, then went on to hold a short marketing stint for Walt Disney in Orlando. In 2009, he moved to Colorado to help his friends set up dispensaries, and in 2014 he launched one of the first cannabis tour companies in the US.
Colorado Cannabis Tours takes travelers on a bus to dispensaries, grow operations, and other cannabis-themed spots throughout Denver. On the bus, tourists can smoke weed or vaporize, sample some of the state’s finest ganja, and receive a crash course on how the industry works and what legal weed culture truly looks like. Travelers get to stay in pot-friendly hotels, where they can vaporize in their rooms or toke outside in designated courtyard areas. The green enterprise was even featured on a recent episode of VICE on HBO.
After his first year of managing Colorado Cannabis Tours with web developer Charles Conti, Eymer partnered with Heidi Keyes, the founder of Puff, Pass & Paint, a class that combines marijuana and painting to produce something like a hazy art therapy session. Once they merged the cannabis classes with the tours, the venture took off. Today, the once-fledgling empire is expanding far outside of Colorado, with operations opening across the entire West Coast and Nevada. Big group tours and classes typically take place on the weekends, but classes can also be taken as stand-alone activities in some cities during the week. The expansion also means new classes that include smoking weed while making pottery, learning how to cook edibles, or drafting poetry in a writing workshop. In Las Vegas, tourists can even attend a stage magic course, endorsed by the most famous weed-smoking illusionist, Penn Gillette of Penn & Teller.
CannabisTours.com, which is Eymer, Keyes, and Conti’s national umbrella company, will likely branch into more states as legalization spreads across the US. Although Cannabis Tours's core team is composed of three individuals, it's valued at nearly $2 million today, having grown 66 percent over the last year alone. And while Colorado branded itself as the first state to legalize recreational pot, Eymer believes the state — and Denver in particular — risks losing its top-dog status when it comes to weed tourism. MERRY JANE spoke with Eymer by phone to ask him about where his company is headed, and where he sees cannabis tourism flourishing next.
Above: Two travelers share a gorilla finger-sized blunt on a Colorado Cannabis Tours bus.
MERRY JANE: Where is Cannabis Tours going in the future?
Michael Eymer: I’ve got some exit points [laughs]. There’s some insight I’ve been able to gather into the cannabis industry and travel, in general. Truthfully, I’m far more interested in travel these days than I am in cannabis. Travel’s just a fun, new industry for me. There are things about travel that I like more than things about the cannabis industry. I dreamed that one day I’d get back to the farm, but the way I do that farm may not be entirely focused on the farm. And some things I can’t tip my hat on right now. People are watching me.
We could just do the same things we’re doing in Colorado for our other state markets, but these new markets offer new opportunities for cannabis hospitality and services. This goes into the entire hospitality sector, just like alcohol does. Cannabis travel as a novelty will keep on while there are still states where cannabis is illegal. I think the novelty will normalize, though. We’ll always have these tours for people who are interested, just like there’s still wine tours. Cannabis tours will always be there, but maybe not on the same level as it is now.
But moving in to hospitality services, we’re asking ourselves, “How does cannabis fit into society like that?” Where is it’s natural fit? That’s what we’re honestly trying to figure out. What do people want to do when they’re high? It’s almost like that scene in Half Baked where Jon Stewart is sitting there with a twenty dollar bill and he’s like, “Ever seen a twenty dollar bill… on weed?” All stoners are like that. Everything’s a little bit better on weed. That’s what we’re looking for: what activities lend themselves best to the plant. Every place has different activities to offer.
Above: Colorado Cannabis Tours founder Michael Eymer (middle)
What kinds of people do you see on your tours?
The type of people who take these tours is really hard to put my finger on. It’s a diverse group. They tend to be on the simpler side. Everybody wants something nice to do. They want to be comfortable. But it doesn’t have to be the best of the best.
I think luxury experiences are not-so-much for a true cannabis consumer. We see through bullshit, man. That’s the thing about weed: it opens your eyes a little bit. A lot of luxury experiences are built on the idea that you’re better than the non-luxury experience, that you’re better than non-luxury consumers. That’s one of the first things to go out the window when you start consuming cannabis. You realize we’re all kind of the same.
Reasonable expectations are one of those things that comes with the cannabis consumer. That doesn’t mean dirtbag-level destinations, but it doesn’t have to be the fanciest thing in the world to make these people really, really happy. When they come to us, they’re taking a vacation away from marijuana persecution. They’re taking a vacation to freedom. That’s what we sell. We sell the ability to truly do what they’ve always done. It’s just a more social setting. But even those luxury people who take our tours, they’re fairly reasonable on what they expect, too. Which is kind of an interesting trend.
What’s changed the most since Colorado first went legal?
I would say the push-back in Denver, but the push-back has always been there. Denver’s always been a moody market. That comes from the legislature down, with Denver not sure if it wants to embrace the industry, but having the will of the voters there. I still see that mentality compared to what I’m seeing in Nevada and California, especially. Those two places are going to be incredibly aggressive with tourism.
Colorado Cannabis Tours brings patrons to a pipe-blowing class, where they can learn how to make their own glass.
Are Nevada and California embracing this in ways Denver isn’t?
Yeah, that push-back game is not happening in California. They’re down with it. They’re rolling with [recreational legalization] in a much more progressive fashion, I feel. If you take all the tourists that I see who’d be attracted to Las Vegas or California, and you take them out of the Denver economy? You’re not left with many people. I opposed Denver’s push-back against social use, against social consumption, against social clubs for that reason. People would say to me, “Won’t social use clubs and lounges hurt your business?” And I would say, “No.” Tourists don’t use us as a lounge. They use us as a tour. If you’re going on vacation, you’re going to go to the bars and you’re going to take the tours — you’re going to do both. But if the destination doesn’t have those lounges or those bars? You’re not going to that destination! You’re going to go somewhere else that has them.
That’s where California and Nevada are going to knock the wind out of Colorado. And it’s going to happen really, really quickly. Travelers are savvy. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” If California and Nevada have better laws, better amenities, guess what? That flight to Vegas is cheaper than it is to Denver. While travelers are weighing their options, they may just choose a better destination. And I’m putting my money on they will, because of how resistant Denver has been to allow legalization to progress naturally. Denver’s trying to mess with the invisible hand, and the invisible hand is going to smack them.
You’ve been on the front lines for a while, and you’ve visited a lot of the states that are considering legalization or just passed legalization bills. Do you believe nationwide legalization is coming?
We’re going to have total legalization at some point. And we have two possible destinies. The first is where big money completely blasts this thing and keeps it their own. That would be the destiny I’d rather not see. That’s where we get protectionist laws. That’s how big-money companies build on top of each other. They’ll make it harder for smaller business to make it.
The second destiny happens if we go with a free market. Big players will get out of the game because they can’t compete or can’t get their reward that they feel they are entitled to. Then, we’ll go back to smaller producers. Prices will drop, lifestyles will change.
I see California taking the small producer model. Heidi Keyes will be relocating to north of Oakland this summer to manage Cannabis Tours out there. California is focused on keeping their people in; they’re not focused on pushing their people out. And that’s how Denver was ever since 2009: they’ve been trying to push people out of the industry, and they stayed that way.
Above: Michael Eymer assists a tourist with a vaporizer on the Colorado Cannabis Tours bus
Editor's Note: If California and Nevada overtake the cannabis tourism industries, is there any way Colorado could recover? There’s some hope. Denver recently approved I-300, which will allow some private businesses — such as yoga studios and coffee shops — to allow marijuana smoking and vaporizing on their property.
Although social use clubs were a possibility under I-300, that didn’t come to fruition. A separate state law, SB 184, would’ve finally legitimized social-use clubs in Colorado, but it died on the floor after a ban on residential porch smoking was slipped into bill.
It’s possible that Denver and the Colorado state legislatures may reconsider their restrictive policies on social use once they see the successes in California and Nevada, just as other states saw legalization’s successes in Colorado as an impetus to reform their own marijuana laws.
For more information on Colorado Cannabis Tours, visit their site here.
Follow Randy on Twitter.