Since the elections in November, there's been a new smell in the air in Seattle.
In the SODO neighborhood of Seattle, located South of Downtown, one can find cannabis-infused buttered rum and root beer-flavored hard candy. People also make use of "vape bags," a method of getting around the city's indoor smoking ban.
This is all part of Hempfest, a "protestival" that drew crowds of people to Seattle's waterfront. It only drew a fraction of the number of people that attend Seattle's annual pro-pot rally, which had an estimated 250,000 people last August.
After the legalization of recreational use of marijuana was passed last year, not only in Washington State, but also in Colorado, Hempfest is a possible preview of the coming change of the counterculture to a more mainstream "green" economy based on pot tourism.
Many entrepreneurs, also known as "ganjapreneurs" are preparing for marijuana tourism as a serious business and industry. A state-hired consultant has projected that Washington State might earn up to $180 million in yearly tax revenue from marijuana sales from retail pot shops, in addition to added revenue resulting from related cottage industries.
Observers should expect a "torrent of new tourism to Seattle and Denver" due to marijuana legalization, according to Arthur Frommer's travel blog.
In Washington State, residents over the age of 21 can now legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis, one pound of "a solid marijuana-infused product" like brownies, or 72 ounces of an infused liquid like a smoothie.
The Seattle police have helpfully provided a guide to the legal use of marijuana, calling it, "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle." In it they remind people that smoking in public is still illegal, just as open container laws prohibit public alcohol consumption.
The police also note that it's still illegal to grow, sell or possess any amount of marijuana under federal law, so remind people "you probably shouldn't bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property)."
The drug will not technically be legal until December, after Washington's Liquor Control Board figures out the licensing and enforcement regulations. Currently, police can arrest drivers registering above the legal limit of five nanograms of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, per milliliter of blood. Police have been using roadside sobriety tests, but the law will now define an impairment level.
Those who disagree with the new law are worried that embracing pot tourism will position Seattle as the Amsterdam of America, which, while a catchy and alliterative phrase, has people concerned about a decline in Seattle's reputation and an open door to illegal activity.
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, have been quick to take action, planning different business models to take economic advantage of an influx of pot themed tourism. Hilary Bricken, the lead attorney for the Canna Law Group, has already fielded dozens of pitches from entrepreneurs seeking assistance in business development projects and navigating the legalities of the pot industry.
Washington's wine industry is an oft-cited example of what some hope to do with pot. They envision tours through organic pot farms, and Bricken told CNN that she has spoken with winemakers and commercial farmers in eastern Washington who are considering whether a new crop might help them generate new forms of revenue.
Tourists will need guidebooks, and Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Leafly, is preparing to position his company as the Fodor's, ZAGAT and Yelp of cannabis. The apps they currently have are among the most popular marijuana guides, and help medicinal marijuana users choose from among more than 500 strains, find nearby dispensaries and post their reviews.
"They're coming up with things like 'Cannabis Crawls,' going from dispensary to dispensary and showing you how to get there and providing you with food and transportation along the way," Bricken said. People are also creating art and merchandise ranging from coffee mugs to hand towels that depict the most popular marijuana strains.
Cannabis farmers markets, currently limited to medical marijuana patients, are ready to expand their customer base as well.
There is still a question as to whether federal authorities will file a lawsuit that voids all recreational use, as it is still not legal under federal law, but whatever type of tourism emerges from the new laws, people in the city expect it to be uniquely Seattle.
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