09 November 2012

US tourism fears marijuana legalisation impact

While the biggest news of this week's presidential election was President Barack Obama securing his second term by defeating Republican rival Mitt Romney, the states of Colorado and Washington also featured heavily as they became the first states to legalise marijuana for recreational use, raising concern about a new form of US tourism.

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The legalisation of marijuana in Colorado and Washington has led some to fear the states could become new 'drug tourism' destinations akin to Amsterdam.

The US tourism industry has made significant changes in recent months to attract more international tourists - particularly simplifying US visa application processes for Chinese and Brazilian tourists. However, the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado and Washington has prompted speculation the states could become Amsterdam-style 'drug-tourism' destinations.

"Tourism is the second largest industry in both Denver and Colorado," said Richard Scharf, CEO of Visit Denver. "If Colorado receives international media attention as the first state in the US to legalise marijuana in their constitution, Colorado's brand will be damaged and we may attract fewer conventions and see a decline in leisure travel."

Marijuana legislation has been scaled back and back in the US in recent years and is legal in many states for medicinal use. However, full Marijuana legislation was on the ballot in both Colorado and Washington as part of the election in season and was passed as part of Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington.

The actual laws stipulate that an individual can have a maximum of six marijuana plants each for their own use in Colorado while 'grow your own' is still illegal in Washington. Both states prohibit public consumption and Washington's law includes a strict drug driving provision.

Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center says the legalisation is 'groundbreaking' but is unclear as to the impact it could have on either state.

"There are two big issues: do the states want a marijuana tourism industry, and if so would the federal government allow it?" said Ms Kilmer.

One of Colorado's main tourism attractions is its ski resorts and Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country says a 'wait and see' approach is best.

"We're holding our breath, so to speak," said Ms Rudolph. "People choose to come to Colorado for a variety of reasons, and if this is one of them, so be it."

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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