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The United States map is taking hit after hit with states that now allow for the sale of recreational marijuana. With this comes a growing segment of the travel industry: Cannabis Tourism.

 In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older; in January 2014, the state became the first place in the world to legally sell it. Denver, in particular, has been a glowing green spot on the map. As cannabis tourism lit up, the nickname Mile High City took on a double meaning.

As of January 2018, nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use: Colorado was first, followed by Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

These destinations don't necessarily promote weed attractions as a possibility for travelers, but the possibilities do exist: 420-friendly hotels, "Bud & Breakfasts," cannabis cooking classes, cannabis-themed excursions and more attract visitors to these destinations.

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WE KNOW A GUY: A LOOK BEHIND CALIFORNIA'S EMERALD CURTAIN

While California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, recreational sales were only recently legalized. Proposition 64 took effect on January 1, 2018.

That was a game-changer.

"The industry just opened up in a unique way," said Victor Pinho, founder and CEO of Emerald Farm Tours, a company that offers an inside look at cannabis farms and businesses in California's Bay Area and Sonoma County.

"We can feel comfortable bringing people to a legal facility that's opening its doors to our tourists and our guests. Now is the time. This industry is naturally burgeoning. It's a niche industry within an industry."

Pinho, who has more than 15 years of experience in the cannabis industry, worked quickly to establish himself as the leading player in Northern California. Emerald Farm Tours began taking reservations on February 1st and began rolling out tours a few weeks later.

So far, about 70 percent of Emerald Farm Tours' guests have been from outside of the state. About half of those guests are from outside of the country.

"For so long, prohibition has denied people around the world the opportunity, ability and privilege of basically consuming a substance that's far less harmful than alcohol—and alcohol is a staple of almost every society on the Earth. For a lot of these folks, coming to the United States, particularly California, is going to provide them that opportunity they can't have back at home."

Through the company's Regional Cannabis Culture Tours, guests enjoy a cultural city tour of San Francisco. Guests cruise the streets in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Luxury bus, learn interesting historical facts and visit landmarks like SPARC, a medical marijuana dispensary. The tour guides aim to meet guests at their experiential level with cannabis—whether they're budding enthusiasts or active in the industry.

"We weave the story carefully through the neighborhoods of San Francisco," Pinho said. "It's an intensive learning experience, but I think people come away very enlightened, having felt like they got some insider details behind the green curtain at what the industry looks like to people who work in it."

Once California enters growing season in May, guests of Emerald Farm Tours will also be able to get their hands dirty—in the plants. Farm tours will offer an educational experience similar to the cultural tours, and guests will visit a licensed consumption facility in the region so they can sample some of the products seen on-site.

"All these people are coming in from other countries, other towns, other cities, other states. They don't have what we have here. They don't have this cultural experiment in legal cannabis," Pinho said.

"What we're doing is providing the best type of solution for that type of traveler."

RULES OF THE ROAD: JOINTS CAN STILL PUT YOU IN THE JOINT

Cannabis tourists should have high expectations—but not too high. Even in destinations where recreational sales are legal and cannabis tourism offers unique experiences, there are still rules.

Cannabis is still illegal under United States federal law and many states have restrictions. Travelers cannot carry cannabis over state lines, even when transporting it to another state where it's legal, and the voter-approved laws don't offer the complete freedom to buy, grow and smoke marijuana anywhere and anyhow individuals please.

In California, it's illegal to consume cannabis in a moving vehicle. It's important for travel professionals and travelers to know the specific laws in a specific destination and seek out establishments that follow those rules.

"We've heard of some bad actors in the industry who are taking a big risk in order to make money," Pinho said. "Unfortunately, they're putting their guests, their companies, the industry at risk."

Emerald Farm Tours has an important job, Pinho notes.

"We're not just giving people a nice, robust tourism experience. We're showing them what it's like to be a responsible adult cannabis consumer in America. We're setting an example as ambassadors for this industry. The examples we set are going to go back and carry forth and become policy one day. We have to do our best in this industry to put our best foot forward at all times."

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.

Photo Courtesy of Mike Rosati.

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