According to Visit Seattle – a private, nonprofit marketing organization that sells Seattle and King County as a destination for travelers and large-scale conventions – tourism in King County is a nearly $6 billion a year business, making it the fourth largest industry in the entire state and contributing $479 million in state and local tax revenues. The agency says tourism creates jobs for more than 53,500 people in the Seattle region.
And soon, thanks to legalized marijuana, those numbers could be going up.
In a letter to the state Liquor Control Board earlier this week, Pete Holmes and the City Attorney’s Office chimed in on the rules being drafted for the full implementation of Initiative 502, which legalized the possession of up to an ounce of weed by adults after voters soundly passed the effort last November. Among other things, in the letter the City Attorney’s Office gives its blessing to allowing tourists to come to Seattle with the express purpose of getting high legally.
“We also support the Board’s decision to permit nonresidents to purchase one ounce of marijuana at a retail store. People travel to Washington for many reasons, and tourism is a significant industry within Seattle and throughout the state. We want tourists to enjoy our beautiful outdoors, fresh produce, microbrews, fine wines, professional sports and entertainment. We should similarly embrace marijuana tourism.”
Holmes goes on to note that the City Attorney’s Office, much like the Liquor Control Board and Gov. Inslee, doesn’t want to see retailers “oversell” to tourists, increasing the likelihood that pot could be carried back across state lines – a development that would surely draw the ire of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the feds, who have yet to decisively articulate a stance on marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado.
As Holmes writes, “I-502 does not prohibit nonresidents from traveling to Washington, purchasing marijuana from a licensed retailer, or consuming that marijuana within the state, but we support Governor Inslee’s promise that Washington State will not become the country’s export market for marijuana. We need a strong partnership with law enforcement to extinguish the illegal market and properly regulate the new legal market.”
While the City Attorney’s Office may be ready to embrace marijuana tourism, according to Visit Seattle, many questions remain.
“Visit Seattle remains open to exploring the viability of inbound tourism associated with legalized marijuana in 2014,” says Visit Seattle Vice President of Communications David Blandford in an email to Seattle Weekly.
However, Blandford also notes the many areas need further study before the city and county start counting the pot tourism dollars, including: “the federal interpretation of the state law and visitors’ ability to cross state lines or fly to or through our air and sea ports while in possession; how the state will determine public consumption and whether or not dedicated cafes will be permitted; how private sector tourism businesses, such as hotels, will delineate on-site usage; and the availability of national research that indicates the relative value of marijuana usage in generating tourism visits.”
All good questions, though the answer to the first – if Gov. Inslee can help it – has already been made clear: adults, and adult tourists, will likely be able to smoke weed in Washington, but prohibiting them from crossing state lines with the drug will be one of the top priorities of those in charge of turning the words and rules of I-502 into reality.