In 2012, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock openly opposed recreational pot legalization in Colorado. He warned voters that the “perception that Denver is the marijuana capital” would “disproportionately harm” the Mile High City’s largest industry: tourism.
History has proven Hancock wrong.
A new study from the University of Pennsylvania found that Colorado’s hotels made $130 million in new revenues and saw a 9 percent increase in bookings shortly after launching legal adult-use cannabis sales in January 2014. The study’s author, John O'Neill, credited the spike in lodging expenditures — and Denver’s soaring economy — solely to legal weed.
"Although I studied Denver during a period of economic growth, its growth after legalizing recreational marijuana was above and beyond what would have been otherwise expected without legal recreational marijuana," he told Phys.org. "In addition, its growth was greater than comparable cities, such as Albuquerque, Austin, and Salt Lake City. Also, its growth was greater than national averages.”
However, the buzz wore off after about a year. Initially, hotels charged greater rates in 2014 due to increased demand — and let’s face it, given the hype around legalization, hotels could charge damn near whatever they wanted back then. But from 2015 onward, the average number of hotel reservations returned to their normal numbers, and rental rates fell back to their pre-2014 prices, as well.
Additionally, how close a hotel was located to a pot shop didn’t matter. Tourists didn’t care how close dispensaries were to their lodging, probably because they wanted to visit as many dispensaries as possible.
O’Neill plans to deliver his findings to state governments that are considering legalizing recreational weed. Areas with struggling tourism industries, or which could just use a financial boost, may find the data useful. He only looked at Denver since the capital has the most, and longest period, of weed legalization data. The same data trends may be found in other big cities such as Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles shortly after their respective states legalized, too.
Cannabis hospitality is one industry that experts didn’t see exploding in popularity after legalization, but it’s been persistently successful as new weed-legal states come online. Overall, Colorado's tourism industry was worth $21 billion in 2017. By 2018, it was worth $22.3 billion.