Will 'marijuana tourism' light up voters?

3:15 PM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - As pot-smoking, Amsterdam-bound travelers celebrate last week's decision by the incoming Dutch government to ditch a national, residents-only "weed pass," voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington decide Tuesday whether to approve ballot measures that would legalize recreational use of the drug.

The three states are among 17, plus the District of Columbia, that already allow medical use of cannabis. But these initiatives would go further, and defy federal efforts to crack down on the industry. California tried to change marijuana prohibition laws in 2010 through Proposition 19, but voters turned it down.

In Colorado - where the ski resort of Breckenridge removed penalties for marijuana possession in 2010 and already has a reputation as the "Amsterdam of the Rockies" - Amendment 64 would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older and would let specially licensed marijuana stores sell to anyone 21 and older who presents "government-issued identification to determine the consumer's age."

Polls show would-be Colorado voters are evenly divided over the measure. The state's nonpartisan voter guide estimates the amendment would produce $5 million to $22 million per year in state sales tax, reports the Denver Post .But opponents, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the city's tourism bureau, Visit Denver, argue passage would tarnish the state's image.

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

Public support for a similar measure has flagged in Oregon, where YES on 80 campaign spokesman Roy Kaufmann argued the law could boost the state's image as a tourist destination, similar to the effect of the Oregon wine and beer industry.

In Washington, meanwhile, resident travel guru Rick Steves has been a vocal proponent of Initiative 502, which is leading in the polls and getting support from across the political spectrum, including two former U.S. attorneys, the Seattle city attorney and the Republican candidate for Senate, Michael Baumgartner.

Steves pooh-poohs the notion that Washington would become a magnet for stoner tourists, but says his European travels have convinced him that regulation and taxation is more effective than prohibition.

"That's the fun of all this," Steves told SFGate.com. "If it was Snoop Dogg, it would be one thing. But it's Rick Steves. He's a nice guy. A businessman. We're saying this is not for kids. This is about civil liberties, (and) if a guy wants to light up a joint and stare at the fire inside his house for two hours, then he should be able to do that."

USA TODAY

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