It’s a fair bet that you won’t have time to visit all four of Colorado’s national parks on your next trip to the Centennial State.
And it’s a fair bet that, like me, you can’t even name Colorado’s four national parks.
For the record they are: Mesa Verde National Park (Cortez and Mancos); Rocky Mountain National Park (East Park and Grand Lake); Grand Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, in Mosca; Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, in Montrose – not to mention the historic sites and spaces dubbed ‘monuments.’
So it’s good to know that Denver International Airport (DEN) has an exhibition celebrating the state’s four very diverse National Parks – which have dunes, deserts, canyons and mountains – at the Ansbacher Hall in the Jeppesen Terminal, Level 6 north before A Bridge Security.
The exhibit has images, objects and artifacts offering historical, education and recreational facts unique to each park and provides scenic murals where travelers can take photos “inside” all four of Colorado’s national parks. (Is that cheating?)
While it is now legal to possess and purchase marijuana in Colorado, anyone who brings pot to either of the state’s two busiest airports – Denver International and Colorado Springs – now risks the chance of being fined.
On Wednesday, Denver International Airport held a public hearing to formalize a policy it rolled out earlier in the month prohibiting the possession, use and consumption of marijuana for everyone – travelers, meters and greeters and workers – on airport property.
At the same time, DIA officials announced a set of “administrative citations,” or fines that would be issued as part of that policy: $150 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and up to $999 for a third offense and beyond.
“This is really a last resort for us though,” said DIA spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. “Our primary goal is for people to comply with federal law,” which states that it is illegal to bring marijuana past security or transport it across state lines. See DIA’s new signage below, and then read on.
Stegman said that, as at other airports, if a TSA officer discovers marijuana, local law enforcement is called. “Law enforcement would look at the circumstances and determine what to do—depending upon intent, age, quantity, etc.”
If someone over age 21 is found at DIA airport with a small amount of pot, they’d likely be asked to put it in their vehicle, have someone take it away from the airport or asked to throw it away in a checkpoint trash receptacle. (DIA’s receptacles have lids with small holes, so Stegman isn’t worried about discarded marijuana being retrieved by others.) Those who decline these options would be asked to leave the airport and, before a citation would be given “other options would be explored,” said Stegman.
Signs outlining the rules will be posted at Denver International Airport within seven days, at which time airport and local authorities will begin enforcing the policy.
Starting Friday, January 10, pot is also prohibited throughout Colorado Springs Airport. According to a report in The Gazette, officials have warned the public that possession of pot at the airport could be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 – and jail time.
Those found with marijuana at the Colorado Springs Airport will have the option to give it up voluntarily, without penalty, by putting it in their cars, giving it to someone to take away from the airport or depositing it in an “amnesty box” to be destroyed.
As Colorado becomes the first state in the nation to allow recreational marijuana sales beginning Jan. 1, a budding pool of “potrepreneurs” have high hopes for an influx of out-of-town pot tourists.
Colorado High Life Tours, which promises “fun, affordable and discreet” cannabis-centered excursions, is expanding its private and public limo and bus tours.
“You’ll be able to buy a little pot here and there, see a commercial grow, visit iconic Colorado landmarks and take lots of pictures,” said company owner Timothy Vee. “It will be like a Napa Valley wine tour.”
Cannabis-friendly guides, activities and tours in Colorado are already available. As of Dec. 30, 14 retail marijuana stores in Denver had received licenses to open on the first of the year and two dozen other marijuana-related businesses that had met the city’s licensing requirements were awaiting approval.
Beyond the Mile High City, more than 25 other towns and cities will allow medical marijuana businesses to start adding or transitioning to retail marijuana sales Jan. 1.
Unlike Napa Valley wine tours, however, out-of-state tourists to Colorado’s pot retail stores won’t be able to take home most products they purchase. “It remains illegal to take marijuana out of the state,” said Michael Elliott of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.
And because marijuana also remains on the Transportation Security Administration’s list of prohibited items, Denver International Airport will enforce a new policy that bans pot throughout the airport.
“Previously, a visitor to the airport could have less than one ounce of pot as long as they were over 21 and did not pass through security,” said airport spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. Now, to ensure that passengers don’t mistakenly violate the rules of the airport and air travel, “we have prohibited the possession, use, and consumption of marijuana for everyone on airport property.”
Travelers also won’t find much information about pot tours alongside official city and state tourism brochures, vacation guides and websites promoting Colorado’s skiing, hiking and cultural activities.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to get the best return on our marketing efforts,” said Rich Grant, spokesman for Visit Denver, the city’s travel and visitor bureau. “There is no research yet on the benefits of marijuana tourism, so for at least the first year we’re not going to market that in any way.”
Pamphlets created by a coalition of marijuana industry organizations seek to fill in the gaps, informing tourists of what they can and cannot do while in Colorado and offering such advice as “Do not eat the whole brownie” and “Remember, Uncle Sam says ‘Stay off federal lands with that devil’s lettuce.’ ”
“There may be a line out the door and we expect our budtenders will be dealing with people who have a myriad of questions. So we wanted to offer information about the laws and about safe consumption,” said Elan Nelson, a business strategy consultant for Medicine Man in Denver.
In south Denver, the staff at Evergreen Apothecary, located about an hour and a half from the Wyoming border, is ready for an influx of first-day retail pot shoppers with rented propane heaters, red velvet ropes and a security staff that will be on duty starting at 8 a.m.
“We’ll be giving out special T-shirts,” said shop co-owner Tim Cullen, “and my parents have volunteered to hand out coffee, juice and snacks to the people standing in line.”
Longtime travel expert Arthur Frommer has predicted that pot tourism will make Colorado a new hot spot. But despite the fact that this sort of tourism has been lucrative for shop owners in Amsterdam, his daughter, Pauline Frommer, the editorial director of Frommer Media, said she’s taking a “wait-and-see approach.”
Leafly, an online database with thousands of user reviews of medical marijuana strains and dispensaries around the country, expects that starting Jan.1 there will be a large number of reviews written about the retail pot stores and recreational marijuana strains available in Colorado.
“It will help tourists in new locations find the right strain for the experience they’re looking for. And once people find the right strains, we can tell them which retail stores have it and which retail stores are top-rated,” said Leafly CEO Brendan Kennedy.
Prior to Jan. 1, Colorado High Life Tours has mixed sightseeing with stops at glass-blowing shops, marijuana grow centers and has offered customers “free samples”—because buying pot was not yet legal.
“You live and learn,” said Vee. “On our tours, we’re getting a lot of empty nesters that haven’t smoked pot in 20 years. We’ve also had people who have never smoked pot take our tours and had one couple get high and so paranoid that we had to interrupt the tour and take them back to their hotel.”
(My story about pot tourism first appeared on NBC News Travel.)