Marijuana tourism: smoking up a storm

Posted by Paul Maughan-Brown on 7 October 2014

In January 2014, the American states of Colorado and Washington became the first places in the world where it’s legal to buy marijuana over the counter for recreational use.

marijuana, weed

Photo by Chris Yarzab.

The result? Thousands of tourists have flocked to cities such as Denver, creating new demand for a budding marijuana tourism industry. ‘What’s the world coming to?’ you may ask. They’re coming to get high, and they’re willing to pay to do it.



It may surprise you to learn that smoking marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands. But since the 1970s the Netherlands has employed a policy of tolerance to people buying and smoking in registered coffee shops, resulting in an annual contribution of US$2,5 billion to the Dutch economy. A recent law disallowing the sale of pot to foreigners had stoners everywhere sweating, but local municipalities can choose whether to enforce this; Amsterdam has chosen not to for the time being.

Colorado and Washington

Foreigners older than 21 can buy up to seven grams of weed a day (more than enough, if you don’t know) over the counter in registered stores. You can’t smoke in public and will be liable to pay a fine of up to US$150 (about R1 600) if caught doing so. Newly started pot-focused tour companies report waiting lists of thousands, and even the tourist information desk at Denver International Airport has a list of places you can get grass. Colorado state made US$2 million in tax from marijuana sales in January alone.


There has been a buzz about the South American nation making the ballsy move of legalising marijuana countrywide in December 2013. It will be sold in pharmacies, without any prescription needed. But before you jump on a plane, marijuana will only be legally available to Uruguayan citizens. How strictly this restriction will apply remains to be seen.


Local ganja growers will take visitors on tours of their outdoor crops and sell the stuff by the bagful, even though it’s illegal. A favourite location is Nine Mile, the hometown of the world’s most famous Rastafarian, Bob Marley. It looks likely that smoking weed will be decriminalised* in the island nation sometime this year.

* ‘Decriminalised’ means that possession of marijuana (in limited quantities) is against the law, but isn’t treated as a prosecutable criminal offense. Countries that have this policy adopt punitive measures ranging from confiscation of the contraband to charging fines and compulsory counselling.

This article originally appeared in Getaway’s May 2014 issue.

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