Could Maine’s famous tourism attractions include cannabis social clubs in hotels, or “bud-and-breakfast” inns complete with in-room vaporizers and cannabis gift bags? What about farm-to-table dinners with marijuana-infused ingredients?
Possibly, said attorneys who offered opinions about the potential business opportunities ahead for Maine’s hospitality industry. Maine legalized marijuana in a referendum question last November, but the state has yet to devise rules for the impending industry. In other states with legal recreational marijuana, specialized cannabis tourism sectors have sprung up, providing marijuana-themed activities and accommodations for visitors.
The prospect of cannabis tourism in Maine was intriguing enough to warrant its own seminar at a recent tourism summit in Kennebunkport. But political uncertainty about Maine’s recreational marijuana rules tamped down enthusiasm. A bill to regulate Maine’s recreational marijuana industry passed in the Legislature nearly two weeks ago, but without the votes needed to overturn a possible veto from Gov. Paul LePage. The governor has until Friday to veto the bill, sign it or let it become law without his signature.
One provision of the bill, licenses for social clubs where people can buy and consume cannabis, is a unique feature in Maine’s proposed regulations. It gets around the problem other states have encountered – tourists can legally purchase cannabis, but don’t have a legal place to use it.
“The most obvious opportunity for restaurants and inns would be a social club license,” said Ted Kelleher, an attorney from Drummond Woodsum. The pending bill includes a moratorium on social clubs until June 2019.
Theoretically, a hotel could open a social club on the premises for guests to buy and consume cannabis, Kelleher said. Hotels or other lodging also could have cannabis-friendly smoking areas, he said.
The same situation would be trickier for restaurants, because future rules likely will prohibit serving alcohol and cannabis in the same place, said Hannah King, another Drummond Woodsum attorney.
Social clubs also could be limited by municipal governments, which may be given wide leeway to regulate what cannabis businesses will be allowed within their borders.
“Most hotels understand that this concept of social clubs is very controversial, it is very new,” King said.
FUTURE CANNABIS POSSIBILITIES
The bill opens the door for private events and functions such as cannabis-themed dinners or weekend retreats that allow guests to bring their own cannabis or purchase it from a vendor, Kelleher said.
“The rules on personal consumption will probably end up saying you can consume it in your home or another private place,” he said.
At least one Maine “bud-and-breakfast” is already carving out a niche in the new market. The website for Maine Greenyards in Auburn advertises cannabis-friendly suites complete with an indoor pool, hiking trails, continental breakfast and tour of marijuana cultivation on its property. The website explicitly states marijuana is not for sale, but guests are provided with gifts of cannabis products, according to a recent story by the Boston Globe.
The owners of Maine Greenyards were not available for an interview and did not respond to an email with questions about the business.
Other states that have legalized marijuana have found challenges when trying to mass market cannabis-themed attractions for tourists.
The same tourism marketing organizations that tout local wine, beer and food haven’t yet done the same for cannabis. That’s either because they are prohibited from advertising marijuana to out-of-state residents, as is the case in Colorado, or because of uncertainty about what is allowed under state and federal law.
“It is unclear what we are legally allowed to be part of, so we are proceeding in a cautious way,” said David Blandford, senior vice president of public affairs at Visit Seattle Washington.
His organization provides information about recreational marijuana to tourists, but doesn’t advertise openly, even though it would like to, Blandford said.
“We are very open to the concept of marijuana tourism. We fully expect this will become bigger and bigger as time goes on,” he said.
A DEARTH OF DATA ON IMPACT
At least initially, Maine’s tourism marketers are likely to lean toward teaching visitors the rules about legal cannabis instead of outright promotion, said Lynn Tillotson, president of Visit Portland.
“The onus will be on all of us who welcome visitors to educate them and keep them safe and out of trouble,” she said.
There is no reliable data to gauge the draw of legal marijuana for tourists or the financial impact of cannabis tourism, so the future effect in Maine is unclear.
Colorado, the first state to legalize adult-use marijuana in 2012, has had record-breaking visitors and revenue every year since 2010, but it is unclear how much legal pot played into those figures.
“There is certainly a segment of people who come out here and their whole experience is based around the cannabis scene,” said Jeremy Bamford, president of Denver-based potguide.com, a website that offers cannabis tourism resources and links.
“What we see a lot more of is people who are casual users, that might not be the main factor why they visit Colorado, but it is a contributing factor,” Bamford said.
In the five years since legalization, a strong cannabis tourism sector has developed in Colorado, offering tours of cultivation sites and retail shop visits, marijuana cooking lessons, cannabis-themed painting classes, yoga and massage sessions, and stays at “420-friendly” hotel rooms. The same could happen in Maine, but probably not overnight, Bamford said.
“I would expect there is a lot of opportunity to come out of this, but it takes years to break stigmas and for businesses to become more accommodating,” he said.
Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: