How hoteliers can prepare for the rise of pot tourism
How hoteliers can prepare for the rise of pot tourism
03 MAY 2016 8:16 AM

Before hoteliers allow the use of cannabis at their properties in states where it’s legalized, there are a number of issues they should address.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Four states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and while other states are considering similar moves, it may take years for countrywide acceptance. People who look to travel to use cannabis legally means hoteliers in those states can take advantage of these still limited tourist markets, but there are some related issues they need to address first.

Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the nation’s capital are somewhat experiments for the rest of the country in terms of legalized recreational marijuana. Hotels in those markets also are test subjects for the industry to dip its toes into pot tourism.

No smoking in public
None of the states that permit recreational or medical marijuana allow people to smoke in public spaces, according to Jason Cetel, associate attorney with GrayRobinson. This means hoteliers who are interested in allowing guests to smoke marijuana at their hotels need to determine what is considered a public space in their properties.

“If you’re a tourist from out of state, your only opportunity to consume marijuana is in a private area,” he said. “The question for the hotel is, to what extent are your different premises and facilities defined as a public space? Is the hotel lobby a public area? Is the bar a public area? Is the recreation room or another kind of interior room that is an event space public? What about the cabana area or pool?”

The answers to those questions might come through state attorneys and the written regulations. Once hoteliers determine what is public, they need to see what private areas guests can use to smoke, he said. In most cases, those are the actual guestrooms, but there are also limitations there. Many states have clean indoor air laws, Cetel said, which in some states allow 25% of guestrooms in hotels to be designated smoking rooms.

Newer forms of marijuana paraphernalia, such as e-cigarettes and vaporizers, don’t actually produce combustible smoke, Cetel said. These products allow users to consume marijuana concentrate and inhale vapor without producing smoke.

“This whole area complicates how clean air acts would apply in these situations,” he said. “If clean indoor air acts prohibit smoking, it may allow vaporizing because it’s not expressly prohibiting it.”

Another possibility would be to make the entire property private, which is the approach Joel Schneider and The MaryJane Group took with their “bud and breakfasts” in Denver, Silverthorne and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Schneider, CEO of The MaryJane Group, said the company takes on smaller properties and makes them private to allow guests to smoke in locations other than their guestrooms, therefore avoiding Colorado’s clean air act.

“We would rather they smoke in the common spaces,” he said. “We promote the sharing aspect, the communal aspect of it. We can make sure the guests are safe and secure. They’re ingesting cannabis that’s a lot stronger probably than they have in their lifetime, or at least recently.”

Some of the places guests can smoke include shared living rooms, dining rooms, patios and a hot tub, Schneider said. At the Colorado Springs property, there is a cottage turned into a smoking lounge.

“We don’t want guests smoking in the rooms,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of people are compliant.”

To ensure that all parts of the properties are private, the only way into the property is to ring a doorbell and be greeted by an employee or with a guest’s key. There are 8-foot-high fences around the perimeters where guests can smoke outside but the public can’t see guests smoking from off-site. Only guests staying at the properties can smoke, Schneider said, and the general public isn’t allowed to come on property to smoke. There also is no membership program for nonguests.

Employee policies
While recreational use has been legalized in several states, private companies can still prohibit drug use by employees, Cetel said, but there is a question whether medical marijuana is permissible under the federal and state levels of the American with Disabilities Act for certain ailments.

One clear definition is that employees can’t be high while at work, Cetel said, regardless of whether the marijuana was for recreational or medical use. Bartenders can’t consume alcohol while working, he said.

While the company encourages employees to smoke off the clock, even with guests at the properties, Schneider said his employees are not allowed to be high while working.

“We’ve warned staff about it,” he said. “We’ve caught staff doing it and put letters in their files. I am a proponent of cannabis. I like it a lot. But when you’re at work, you have to work.”

Safety considerations
If a hotelier decides to allow cannabis use, in any form, at a property, Cetel said it’s necessary to address safety issues ahead of time.

“You don’t want to allow guests to be visibly intoxicated to the point of causing harm to others or disrupting other guests who don’t want to be around them,” he said, comparing it to policies dealing with drunk guests. “You wouldn’t want an intoxicated guest walking around drunk causing a ruckus. You don’t want guests on marijuana doing similar things.”

While hoteliers might want to accommodate marijuana tourists, Cetel said, there’s still the obligation to other guests who might not want to be involved in it. As some state laws allow 25% of hotel rooms to be smoking rooms, he said, hoteliers would probably want to group them together in a corner to help monitor them instead of spreading the smoking rooms among all floors.

One area in need of further exploration is the application of dram shop laws, which limit liability for alcohol licensees if a patron consumes alcohol and injures someone, Cetel said. If a bar owner serves someone a beer and that person hurts someone else, it’s unlikely that third party can sue the owner for negligently serving alcohol to that person. However, if that bar owner continues to serve to a clearly intoxicated patron who then injures someone, the owner might be liable.

“These laws were created to deal with alcohol intoxication,” Cetel said. “That’s an area that needs to be explored, for a person intoxicated on marijuana. It’s a novel area, but it’s not really developed.”

Hoteliers will need to consider how they train employees to recognize the signs and to what degree a guest is high on cannabis, he said, and how to handle that guest and whether to serve him or her alcohol in the hotel restaurant or bar.

At this point, only licensed dispensaries can sell cannabis, Cetel said, which means guests will need to purchase their own off property and bring it back with them to use.

“It’s important to make sure there are no sales going on at the property,” he said. “Hoteliers and management companies have the obligation to ensure the welfare of their guests.”

Though selling is illegal, sharing is not, Schneider said. People can share up to an ounce a day with people 21 years old and older, he said. Schneider and his hosts have not encountered anyone trying to sell on the properties, he said.

“We promote sharing,” he said. “It goes on all day long.”

Marketing opportunities
Hoteliers in states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized generally appear to have taken two approaches when they allow cannabis use: fully embrace it or keep it on the down low. Either way, they have some options for marketing themselves as marijuana-friendly.

Jennifer DeFalco, co-founder of Cannabrand, a cannabis-focused marketing firm, said even though the Colorado tourism board won’t partner with cannabis companies and won’t promote cannabis tourism, there are huge opportunities for hotels to create guest packages. Hotels do it with wine tasting and tours, she said, and there are great experiences for travelers to tour grow facilities and dispensaries and attend cooking classes to create edibles. This approach opens the door to tourists to explore cannabis without expressly advertising cannabis use on property, she said.

“It’s an open secret no matter where you stay (in Colorado), you can eat it with an edible or vape it,” DeFalco said. “It really doesn’t matter where you stay. It is how a lot of tourists choose to consume in hotels.”

For hoteliers looking to fully open themselves up to cannabis use at their hotels, DeFalco said it’s perfectly legal to publish on hotel websites and social media that they are cannabis-friendly and have cannabis tours or packages. They could run into trouble running advertising elsewhere, such as banner ads on other websites, she said, as there are laws against advertising to out-of-state residents.

There’s also the option of partnering with cannabis-related tourism companies, she said, as there are a number of them in operation that have already aligned themselves with hotels and different cannabis-related activities and dispensaries.

“They’ve really been able to take advantage of the opportunity to create experiences for tourists,” DeFalco said.

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