According to an article released by the Washington Tourism Alliance in June of this year, tourism in Washington State has seen double digit growth during the past five years, generating $10.9 billion in direct state GDP in 2019 alone – before the industry’s near total shutdown in early spring 2020 due to COVID-19.
Since the beginning of March, visitor spending in the state has declined by $3.8 billion compared with last year’s figures. Yet, cannabis sales have continued to rise, with sales in June and July significantly surpassing last year. Cannabis-themed tours are also in full swing, driving direct traffic to retailers.
So, as reopening phases continue, is it possible we could see a boost in tourism based on cannabis sales alone? Some experts say it’s very likely.
After Washington and Colorado legalized adult-use cannabis, researchers compared hotel room rentals in the two states with states that prohibited adult use, between 2011 and 2015. What they found was an influx in tourist numbers and a rise in hotel revenue. Colorado saw monthly hotel booking increases by as much as 7%, and Washington up by almost 4%. In other words, travelers wanted to vacation in states where purchasing and consuming marijuana was legal.
This isn’t just an American economic force either. For decades, Amsterdam did a booming pot tourism business, and when Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis entirely in 2018, visitors around the world flocked to the nation knowing that no matter where they went, weed was legal.
However, despite Canada’s legalization, the U.S. market still generates the most revenue globally, even though only 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized both adult-use and medical cannabis entirely. States such as California, Colorado, and Washington are some of the biggest market drivers, but not only in retail sales. In 2016, Colorado saw a total of 82.4 million travelers and a survey conducted by Colorado Tourism reported that 12 million, or 15% of those travelers, participated in cannabis-related activities. Among that group, 5% of those travelers said they went to Colorado specifically for cannabis reasons.
Additionally, cannabis dispensaries and distributors are continuously expanding their product lines to meet the increasing demands of their customers, and the introduction of weed-friendly hotels and restaurants offering cannabis-infused cuisine, continues to rise. Cannabis entrepreneurs are organizing painting classes, bus tours and other marijuana-infused experiences at an increasing rate, and there are even services willing to pick you up at the airport, like Seattle’s 420 Pickup, which provides transportation to and from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with a stop at several local dispensaries and 10% discount on all purchases.
There are several cannabis tours and buses willing to make your visit more memorable. Mile High Canna Tours takes riders to marijuana retailers where they are given VIP access, and then shuttled around Seattle for sight-seeing. The bus is decked out with a back-lit bar, a high-end sound system, a refrigerator, and two flat screen TVs equipped with a satellite feed.
There’s also the 420 Limo and Laughs 420 Tour in Tri-Cities, where you’ll be picked up at Jokers Comedy Club by a “laser light limo” with built-in fog machine, taken to Prosser to do a little shopping, and then returned to the club for a free night of comedy.
Or the Weed Bus in Seattle, which features 420-friendly transportation on luxury buses with concierge and VIP services to private smoking clubs. Tours throughout the city include pick-ups from locations like the Space Needle, Pike Public Market and the waterfront, and then to recreational retail shops, lounges, weed-friendly lodging, glass-blowing studios and more.
Herban Adventure, formerly known as The Kush Tour, is now hosted by Show Me Seattle. It takes you behind the scenes of Seattle’s cannabis culture. On this tour you’ll get an exclusive trip to a cannabis garden, a private look into how concentrates are re-shaping the industry, and a visit to one of the finest retailers in the business. Tours feature partnerships with Craft Elixirs, Heylo Cannabis, Dawg Star, Ganja Goddess, and The Bakeréé. Tours can also provide an organic farm experience that takes participants to a legal cultivation site to learn about the growing process.
Chronic Carriages is your one-stop shop for any sort of custom cannabis adventure in Washington. Basically, they map out “the perfect day” for what to do and where to go.
As far as places to stay, the Pot Guide has a great listing of places throughout Washington that are weed-friendly, many on farms, offering transportation services, cooking experiences, and more.
In general, if you have an interest in cannabis, and want a first-hand experience when visiting our friendly, wonderfully legal, state, the tourism possibilities are growing and expanding, despite the decline in our economy due to the pandemic. It may be awhile before bars and restaurants resume their pre-COVID capacity, but until the rest of our country catches up, Washington can continue to expect a steady rise in everything cannabis related, be it a 420 hotel or B&B, smoking rooms, or a luxury bus.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.