Could recreational marijuana business surpass ski industry?
VAIL — You have to admire the optimism of Colorado’s ganjapreneurs who say the state’s legal pot industry could generate more money than skiing in a few years.
Skiing pumps about $3 billion annually in Colorado’s economy, says Jennifer Rudolph, communications director with Colorado Ski Country USA. Hunting, fishing and watchable wildlife tourism adds another $3 billion, says the state’s Division of Parks and Wildlife.
By 2018, Colorado’s legal reefer could eclipse both, they say, and they’re taking a nationwide view. Cannabis venture capitalists Arcview Investor Network is projecting nationwide legal pot revenues of $10 billion by 2018.
Future ‘Top Tourist Draw’
“The first few states that do it legally will get tourists from all over the world,” said Chris Walsh, editor of Marijuana Business Daily, an online cannabis industry publication. Walsh used to cover the ski industry for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.
“It’s still going to be top tourist draw,” Walsh said.
And it already is. Travel industry data indicates that Denver tops the list of U.S. cities for online travel information searches.
Reefer retailers in mountain towns report that 90 percent of their customers come from out of state. In Denver it’s as high as 40-50 percent, Walsh said.
“Even if other states come online, it’ll still be big. Colorado was first, so we’ll have an advantage,” Walsh said.
Colorado Ski Country USA is a trade association that represents 21 resorts in the state. Colorado had more than 11 million skier visits this past year, more than any other state.
Marijuana, however, is all the buzz these days and Rudolph smiles as she answers yet another line of marijuana questioning. They talk to their resorts all the time and not much has changed much, one way or another, Rudolph said.
“It’s very much business as usual,” Rudolph said. “People come to Colorado for a variety of reasons, and skiing is one of them,” Rudolph said. “It’s too early for us know what effect marijuana will have, if any. We have so much to offer our guests that outweigh the legal possession of marijuana.”
Walsh said legal reefer could be a decision factor when tourists make travel plans.
“People are coming here for other reasons and this becomes part of that,” Walsh said. “For several skiers and snowboarders, it could give us an advantage over other states like Utah and California.”
Aspen just opened its first retail reefer shop. In Eagle County, where Vail and Beaver Creek are located, no retail shops have opened yet, even though county officials there say they have room for eight. However, Eagle County’s medical marijuana dispensaries are doing a thriving business, selling $276,066 in January, according to the county’s revenue data.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s projections have Colorado’s reefer revenue hitting $1 billion in its first year. Walsh says combined medical and recreational marijuana sales could be as high as $2 billion in a couple years.
It’s off to a flying start. Recreational marijuana sales hit $14 million in January, the first month it was legal. Colorado is the only state that allows pot-laced edibles and edibles make up about 40 percent of all pot sales, says the Colorado Department of Revenue. Throw in medical marijuana and consumables and January sales of marijuana products topped $45 million, pumping $3.5 million in taxes and fees into Colorado’s coffers.
Hickenlooper calls it “one of the great social experiments of the next century.”
‘Google of Cannabis’
Todd Mitchem calls it opportunity. Mitchem is chief revenue officer of O.penVAPE. They sell what amounts to a one-hitter with a replaceable cannabis cartridge, a pen that gives you a smokefree hit.
Business is good. The cartridges sell for $50 and they sell 270,000 a month, Mitchem said.
A month ago they were selling an average of two cannabis oil cartridges every minute. When marijuana officially became legal in Colorado, it jumped to three cartridges a minute.
They’ll soon be licensed in five more: Massachusetts, Oregon, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona.
Mitchem calls O.penVAPE “the Google of cannabis.”
Legal reefer is doing what growing industries are supposed to do — create new jobs.
O.PenVAPE recently hosted CannaSearch, the world’s first cannabis job fair. Fifteen canna-businesses recruited hands for management, retail, sales, marketing, accounting, IT, quality control, administration and horticulture. The pay is comparable to other industries.
“Jobseekers were pleasantly surprised,” Mitchem said.
The doors opened at 11 a.m., but jobseekers started lining up at 6 a.m.
“At one point the line was around three blocks,” Mitchem said.
Before the day was done, 1,240 people walked through the doors. Of those, 40 percent were from outside Colorado including Maine, Ohio, Puerto Rico, California, Vermont and Alabama, Mitchem said.
An individual with a Ph.D. in biochemistry was among the jobseekers, Mitchem said, in addition to nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, graphic artists and experts in growing cannabis.
“We saw it all,” he said.
The media was even-handed in their coverage, Mitchem said, which helped “demonstrate just how mainstream cannabis is becoming.”
Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon even mentioned it in his opening monologue.
Once upon a time, prospectors flocked to Colorado seeking silver and gold. Now, prospectors are seeing green.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.