Legal cannabis helped the Colorado tourism economy. It probably won’t do the same for ABQ.

Legal cannabis helped the Colorado tourism economy. It probably won’t do the same for ABQ.

Nearly a decade after voters in Colorado legalized recreational cannabis, this much seems clear: It was a major victory for tourism.

Those tourists came from all over, and cannabis entrepreneurs launched new businesses to cater to them. Some of these businesses provide cannabis-friendly transportation from the airport to area lodging, others offer high-end dining options with chef-prepared prix fixe menus that pair food and wine with a complementary strain of cannabis.

People from nearby states flocked to Colorado, causing a notable increase in hotel bookings, according to a study by the Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy. Officials in Oklahoma and Nebraska feared these cannabis tours were resulting in residents going to Colorado and bringing cannabis products home with them, so both states took Colorado to court over these cannabis tours. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

But it’s been nine years and New Mexico and 18 states have legalized recreational cannabis. The novelty has waned some and those seeking legal cannabis have a lot more options than they did in 2012.

With New Mexico’s recreational sales set to begin next spring, it’s still possible some travelers may consider the Land of Enchantment because of its legalized weed, but the state likely won’t see a huge bump in tourism, according to Ben J. Lewinger with the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

That said, Lewinger doesn’t think opportunities were missed by New Mexico being a late adopter of legalized cannabis.

“Since our city is in the middle of the state, I don’t think we necessarily missed out on anything,” he said.

Likewise, the state’s tourism promoters are treating legalization as a non-event. Potential visitors will still be pitched on the green chile, the panoramas, and the cultural experiences, but not the cannabis.

“While we have certainly discussed the legalization of cannabis with regards to the tourism industry and visitation to our city, we do not have any definite promotional plans at this time,” said Brenna Moore, the spokeswoman for Visit Albuquerque.

The New Mexico Tourism Department does not plan to incorporate cannabis into the state’s advertising and promotion efforts either, according to spokesperson Cody Johnson.

For now, it seems any increase in cannabis tourism will have to be driven by creative entrepreneurs behind businesses catering to pot enthusiasts or cannabis-curious travelers.

Lewinger said he sees good potential in things like cannabis-friendly Airbnb or other vacation rentals, and with establishments that offer unique places to consume cannabis.

These kinds of businesses have proven they can endure. Nine years after Colorado legalized recreational pot, businesses that cater to cannabis travelers are still thriving.

Many of New Mexico’s closest neighbors have also legalized recreational cannabis. Colorado, of course, was the first in 2012 (though if you’re keeping score, it was followed very closely by Washington). Arizona legalized weed last year. Utah allows for the use of medical cannabis, but not recreational. The same is true for Oklahoma.

Texas, however, does not allow recreational use, and it has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws in the country. It’s a huge state whose population is already fond of vacationing in New Mexico. It seems likely then, New Mexico’s best bet for cannabis tourism comes from Texans seeking cannabis, either for medical or recreational use.

But again, this may not translate into a boon for Albuquerque. However, it will likely benefit cities like Las Cruces and Clovis, according to Lewinger.


A version of this story originally appeared in Downtown Albuquerque News.