Recreational cannabis use first became legal in the U.S. in 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington approved pro-cannabis ballot measures. (In Colorado, it’s actually a constitutional amendment!)
In the five years since, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and the District of Columbia have all followed suit—although it should be noted that at the time of publication, there are no retail dispensaries in D.C., and shops likely won’t be open in California, Massachusetts, and Maine until next year.
Cannabis Tourism 101
The legalization trend has opened the door for cannabis tourism. If you’ve never imbibed but always been curious, or have a hankering for a freshman-year throwback, there’s never been a better time to plan a totally legit, sky-high getaway. Here are some practical pointers for getting the most out of your trip.
You Don’t Have to Be a Local—But You Do Need ID
Your money’s good regardless of where you’re from, although some states subtly discriminate against out-of-staters. In Colorado, for instance, locals can buy cannabis at a recreational dispensary an ounce at a time, but the state limits outsiders to a quarter of that—though you’re free to shop multiple dispensaries ‘til you hit the one ounce-possession limit. You have to be 21 to buy or even enter a recreational dispensary, and you need to be prepared to show ID. It’s just like going to a bar.
Do It By the Book
In a sign of just how mainstream recreational cannabis is becoming, the most recent editions of Moon Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs and Fodor’s Colorado both contain substantial sections on cannabis tourism. Stay tuned for similar updates elsewhere.
There’s an App to Show You the Way
Two, actually. Weedmaps and Leafly both offer downloadable apps to help you find local dispensaries. As an added bonus, they can also help you keep your weed strains straight, from Acapulco Gold to Zombie Kush.
Relax: You’re Going to Get Plenty High
Cannabis grown for dispensaries tends to be a lot stronger than what’s available on the black market, so be conservative and don’t overshoot. Colorado saw a dramatic increase in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and “cannabis exposure” calls to poison centers after medical cannabis was legalized there in 2010.
And if you’re going for edibles, take it one step at time: It can take up to two hours for the high to fully kick in, and there’s no worse way to spend your vacation than doing the flat-on-your back spins.
Cash Is King
Thanks to stern federal banking regulations, most dispensaries have no way to take credit cards. While some shops may accept debit cards, it’s basically a cash-only business—so be prepared. Many shops do, however, have ATMs on-site.
Get a Room
In states where recreational cannabis use is legal, consumption in public places is not—so you’ll have to be prepared to retreat to weed-friendly accommodations or a friend’s home to smoke.
Last November, voters in Denver approved a measure that will allow consumption at permitted businesses and special events in the city, but that doesn’t include dispensaries and bars, and the city government has yet to begin accepting permit applications.
The website potguide.com can help steer you toward cannabis-friendly lodging.
Looking for Swankier Digs? Check Out the Airbnb of Bud
The website budandbreakfast.com offers a huge selection of cannabis-friendly private accommodations in the U.S. and worldwide, and some hosts will leave a joint waiting on your pillow. A slightly less polished and more Colorado-centric alternative is travelthc.com. Best of all, sites like these save you from having to ask your host that super-uncomfortable question: Is it OK to smoke up in your vacation rental?
Get in Touch with Your Feelings
The rise in recreational dispensaries has brought with it a wave of cannabis-enhanced self-improvement pursuits. Marijuasana yoga promises to “reduce noise and dissonance in our bodymind’s vibration,” while Puff, Pass & Paint claims to be “the ultimate” cannabis painting experience. Be aware, though, that all these are strictly bring-your-own-buds events.
What Happens in Denver Stays in Denver
States like Colorado may be expanding lots of people’s minds about cannabis use, but the Feds still take a very dim view of the practice—and you definitely don’t want to fall into their clutches.
Rule #1: Don’t carry your buds across state lines. Fiona Apple, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, and other hapless musical luminaries have all been jailed in Sierra Blanca, Texas, after being busted with cannabis at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 10.
And, contrary to the wisdom of the Internet, a medical cannabis card from another state will not keep you out of jail.
Beware of Smokey the Bear
You also don’t want to carry or use cannabis on federal lands, including national parks and forests and D.C.’s National Mall. Each year, thousands of people are arrested for cannabis possession on federal land, an offense that’s punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Don’t forget that most ski areas in the West operate on federal land–so don’t light your spliffs on the lift.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Denver Travel Guide
- 10 Best Luxury Hotels in Denver
- 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Denver
- 10 Stylish Boutique Hotels in Denver
- 10 Must-See Denver Attractions
- 10 Best Day Trips from Denver
- 10 Fun Things to Do in Denver
- The Best Cheap Eats in Denver
- 10 Best Denver Restaurants
- 10 Best Denver Breweries and Distilleries
- What to Pack for Denver
- What to Wear in Denver
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.