Now that a handful of states have legalized the purchase of marijuana, more tourists are taking notice. Colorado, which has long been a mecca for marijuana users, is leading the charge to introduce curious visitors to cannabis.
Virginians in particular may be tempted to try a Rocky Mountain high, as buying and possessing marijuana remains illegal in the Old Dominion. But if you’re so inclined to take a trip to one of the states where toking won’t get you in trouble, there are a few things you should know.
Even in Colorado, you must be 21 years old to buy, possess or use marijuana. It has to stay there, too–you can’t take it out of the state when you leave. That means you can’t purchase extra to take back to family and friends in states that haven’t legalized marijuana.
Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry, which represents cannabis-related businesses across the country, encourages all tourists interested in trying marijuana for the first time to ask lots of questions. You’ll want to start at one of the dispensaries, which are specialty stores that offer everything weed-related, from lollipops to body cream. Dispensaries are not unique to Colorado. They have popped up in every state that has legalized marijuana, including California, Washington and Maine. “The staff at marijuana dispensaries are trained to help you find what fits your needs,” West says. “Don’t be afraid to let them know you’re a novice.” According to West, prices for marijuana products are reasonable, starting at just a few dollars for an edible, such as a lollipop or a cookie. Coupons in local and independent newspapers are also available.
West recommends that first-time users or those who aren’t comfortable with smoking first try vaping. Instead of burning the marijuana, battery-powered vape pens, which resemble an ink pen, heat marijuana oil to a vapor. “The reaction you get from vape pens is fairly quick, and makes it easier to determine how much you need to feel the desired effect,” West says. Edibles often take longer to go into effect.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make with edibles is not waiting long enough for the marijuana to kick in,” West says. “They think they haven’t had enough, so they eat more, which could lead to a negative reaction.”
While marijuana use is legal in Colorado, it comes with a catch: You can’t smoke in public. Hotels and other lodgings may not allow smoking or vaping on their premises, which can be tough for tourists. A new industry is popping up to address that problem. A weed-friendly version of bed and breakfasts, “bud and breakfasts” allow guests to enjoy marijuana with like-minded travelers.
Social outings featuring weed are also gaining in popularity. Marijuana tour companies take out-of-towners on tours and many allow marijuana consumption on the bus. Painting classes that incorporate marijuana, similar to those that pair painting and wine, are also becoming popular.
“Businesses are trying to create social spaces for marijuana use to make it less frustrating for tourists,” West says.
Based on her personal observations, West says she believes legalizing marijuana has increased tourism to Colorado. “From what I have seen, our tourists run the full age spectrum,” she says. “Since cannabis can be beneficial for chronic pain and appetite issues, both of which affect seniors more than other age groups, an impressive chunk of our market is older travelers.”
If you do plan on indulging, make sure to arrange for a designated driver, just as you would when drinking alcohol, as driving under the influence of any substance is illegal. Regardless of what form you purchase, from flower to edibles, the product must be sold in a child-proof container. Pets should also not consume marijuana, especially edibles, as they can contain ingredients, such as chocolate, that can make animals sick.
West’s best words of advice for tourists seeking to use marijuana for the first time is to “start low, go slow.”
“Understanding how to consume responsibly is important,” West says. “If you choose edibles, make sure you wait two hours to experience the effects before eating more.” If you do overconsume and start to feel ill, West recommends waiting it out. “Find a comfortable spot to lay down and try to feel secure,” she says. “Worst-case scenario, you spend some time feeling bad. Like everything else, this too shall pass.” Some common adverse reactions to marijuana use include feelings of anxiety or paranoia.
Be careful when combining alcohol with marijuana, as you could have unforeseen side effects. “Keep an eye on how you feel when you mix alcohol with marijuana,” West says. “The reactions to each can be different when they are used together.” If you feel especially sick or if the feeling doesn’t subside, seek medical help.
The budding new marijuana industry in certain states has created a multitude of new experiences for curious travelers. “There are a lot of options and styles of marijuana to choose from,” West says. “The desired outcome is different for every person, which is why educating yourself and talking with the staff at the dispensaries is so important. You want to give yourself room for flexibility, whether you want to try something that will mellow you out, make you giggly or help you be more creative.”
Marijuana use isn’t for everyone. If you have concerns or questions before your trip, such as how marijuana may interact with prescription medications or how it could affect a specific health condition, consult with a medical professional.