The first thing you notice when you walk into the Bud & Breakfast called "B and B 420" is that it's really, really clean. It's that feeling of relief you get when you realize that the place you're staying will be nice — better than nice, nicer than your house. The second thing you notice is the faint smell of fresh marijuana in the air, your one gram sample waiting for you in a tupperware on the coffee table tray, beside some rolling papers and a pipe. The third thing you see is the light streaming in the window, bouncing off the snowy backyard, highlighting the tasteful furnishings, the king-sized bed, the flatscreen TV, the "No Smoking" sign with the "B&B 420" poster hanging ironically right across from it. The sign isn't tongue-in-cheek — there is no cigarette smoking allowed here. Strictly marijuana.
I found B and B 420 on Bud and Breakfast, a website that does exactly what its name suggests: it's like AirBnB, only it sets users up with cannabis-friendly places to stay. Some places, like B and B 420, provide free samples of marijuana to guests, while others simply offer a cannabis-friendly place to stay, where connoisseurs won't get in trouble for vaping or smoking in or outside the house. The site features bud and breakfasts all over the world, both in places where recreational and/or medicinal cannabis use is legal — and places where it isn't, at the host's own legal risk. Bud and Breakfast launched in April 2015 with only one accommodation, and now already has over 300 listings worldwide. If its current rate of growth continues, Co-Founder and CEO Sean Roby tells me, they expect to see 3000-4000 listings by the end of 2016.
The company's rapid expansion is a reflection of what is becoming a booming industry within the medical and recreational cannabis market at large — cannabis tourism, or "cannatourism," as it's affectionately called. According to Hotels.com, searches for lodging in Seattle increased by 64 percent in the six months after the state’s first recreational marijuana retailers opened in July 2014, and though local and state tourism agencies don’t endorse or promote marijuana as a Colorado attraction, a Colorado Tourism Office survey found that 48 percent of all tourism in the state of Colorado was cannabis-related.
I myself was in Denver for two nights to cover the Women Grow Leadership Summit, a conference networking women in the burgeoning cannabis industry — so it seemed only appropriate that my accommodations matched the rest of my experience.
As I set my things down, the owner of B and B 420, Darrel Hoffman, gently rapped on my door. Darrel is tall, 45, and handsome in that very particular Colorado-snowboarder-stoner-all-grown-up way. With reddish eyes, he seemed shy, or at least cautious about imposing, and said he just wanted to welcome me and make sure I knew how to work the Keurig, the heater, the safety code on the door. He then directed my attention to my complementary bud samples, one a fresher-than-fresh strain called Guerrilla Glue he grows himself. "They're super tasty. Make yourself at home," he said, before leaving me to it.
Tired and overwhelmed from a full day of travel and reporting, I knew I wouldn't be smoking, and flipped through B and B 420's guest book instead. It was filled with gushing letters of thanks from all over the country.
I made myself a cup of Sleepytime tea, took a luxurious shower, and stepped onto a tempurpedic bathmat that molded to my feet, which I recognized would have felt extra-cool stoned. It was a bathroom with modern fixtures and cleanliness fit for Town & Leisure, with one small, strange difference, hanging right above the toilet.
The next morning, I asked Darrel to join me at the diner he provides a $20 daily gift certificate to in lieu of a homemade breakfast. He drove me in his pickup truck, and when we walked in, the hostess and waitresses at Breakfast on Broadway smiled in recognition. "I'm here all the time," he grinned.
"People from Texas say, 'Oh, dude, we can't even talk about weed ... They feel like refugees, and when they come here they're like expats. They're hanging out, they love it. Everyone's infatuated with it."
I sipped black coffee, and Darrel orange juice, as he told me how he started smoking weed as a teen in Florida. For him, he says, marijuana has always been a sort of ADD medication. "Someone like me, naturally, I have too much energy. When I first started smoking weed, I felt like my friends probably always felt. I felt normal. I slept a little better, became less antsy and hyper. It just did it for me."
He moved to Colorado, where cannabis was not yet legalized as recreational, but medicinal was already permissible. "In Breckinridge, you'd just get fined for having an ounce. An ounce is a lot of weed. In Florida, you'd be in a lot of trouble."
When he arrived in Colorado, Darrel met an older man, a high school dropout-turned-millionaire who needed help with his grow operation. He took Darrel and two other young guys on as his apprentices, and from there, Darrel learned the art and science of growing marijuana. In addition to running the b&b, he still works as a consultant for growers in Colorado. He prefers the small grow operations, where you can pay more attention to each plant, even talk with them. (He even used to play them Vivaldi and Chopin, and watch how they flourished.)
But the industry is growing, and he's had to keep up — Darrel consults for large grow operations too; warehouses that can have upwards of 300 plants, where fertilizer, trimming machines, and hundreds of lightbulbs are necessary to keep up with demand. He doesn't seem worried about the industry getting so big, so quickly.
"I used to get mad about it — I fought against it a little bit. But then I realized there was nothing I could do about it. So just like everything else, I roll with it, I just go with it, do the best I can do."
Rolling with it with a stoner-meets-entrepreneurial spirit seems to be the Denver way, and it's also how Darrel got the idea for B and B 420, which only opened last May. He saw an opening in the market, a need for all the many cannabis tourists coming to Denver to have lodging that matched the rest of the theme of their trip. He built the addition to his house with his buddies, eventually hooking up with the guys from Bud and Breakfast to post his accommodations.
"I didn't expect to be this busy. I kind of go through life doing, and not a ton of planning," he said. From May to September, Darrel was booked 25 days out of each month.
He has guests from all over. Ninety percent, he says, are there explicitly for cannabis tourism. The other 10 percent are in the industry themselves. The majority are about 50 years old. The reason for this more established age, he assumes, is due to the room's cost: $225 a night. About a quarter of his guests are there explicitly for medicinal treatment, meaning they aren't looking for cannabis with the psychoactive THC, but only pain-relieving, non-psychoactive CBD oils and edibles. Out of 60 or so bookings he's had so far, eight groups have been from Texas, and another eight have been from Kentucky, making the South the largest regional block for guests by far.
"People from Texas say, 'Oh, dude, we can't even talk about weed. We got in trouble for having a small grow 10 years ago, and now we don't even speak with anyone about it.' They feel like refugees, and when they come here they're like expats. They're hanging out, they love it. Everyone's infatuated with it."
"I'm a neat freak. I get under the bed. You never have to think,'was the comforter washed?' — the comforter is washed every single time."
Darrel doesn't need a dispensary license to operate his B and B 420, because in Colorado, recreational cannabis use is legal, and he's not selling the weed he provides. "It's my gift to you. That's definitely not included in the price of the b&b," he says firmly. "I give someone a gram a day. I could give someone 28 times more than that a day, so I feel pretty comfortable with a gram."
What's important to him is that people feel comfortable and at home; marijuana is just a part of that. "I'm a neat freak. I get under the bed. You never have to think, 'was the comforter washed?' — the comforter is washed every single time. I feel like I know what you want on vacation, and what you should get when you're on vacation. And that's what I try to give. I don't mind cleaning. I go in and clean the hell out of that place, every time someone leaves." I had noticed the bed smelled and felt especially fresh, even the spare blankets bright white and immaculate. It was a level of cleanliness I'd rarely seen, even in nice hotels; the total absence of other people's footprints.
At the diner, I ordered the corn flapjacks, and Darrel ordered the vegetable hash — "hold the eggs" — whether out of consideration for my vegan diet or not, I'm not sure. He ate at a measured pace.
"When people come in, I give them knowledge whenever I can. I have an old Cadillac that I throw people in and I take them around different dispensaries, go to the red rocks, get a cocktail, whatever. I never thought that's what people would have wanted, but they do. Everyone wants to sit down and talk for awhile, he said, smiling. "So I have to stay current. I have to constantly find out more about what Denver's doing so I can know."
And there is a lot to know. There are new dispensaries and businesses opening up every day around cannabis in Denver, from a designated driver named Mr. Submarine who charges $65 an hour to be a cannabist tourist's luxury designated driver, to cannabis wedding florists and planners. The stereotype that stoners get nothing done is being disproven every day in Colorado, as new businesses spring up every day in to meet the new market's demands. Colorado dispensaries and recreational shops recorded $996 million in sales last year, according to calculations by the Denver Post — an increase of nearly $300 million since 2014. Sales of cannabis are projected to grow by 30 percent per year through 2020, meaning the market will quadruple in the next 14 years. It's being called The Green Rush.
Overwhelmed by my introduction to what may become the fastest-growing industry of our time, I thought about Darrel's words: "It's really big business. It's hard to tell people until they see it."
"The amount of jobs this industry has created is shocking. When you think about those warehouses that used to just be empty buildings, those houses are growing now, and they have to upgrade their electric and heating systems — the HVAC guys say it's 70 percent of their business now. Then you need guys to be bud trimmers for all those plants — they get maybe $25 a plant, can trim eight a day if they're really good."
Everyone I talked to who lives in Denver about the change to the city post-legalization only complains about the increase in traffic and housing prices. Darrel says he hasn't been able to notice any other negative affects for Denver; though he says that 90 percent of the people he knows and interacts with blaze, he doesn't think there's been an increase in consumption or abuse since legalization. "I haven't noticed any difference. I haven't seen an increase of kids on the street or anything," he says.
Indeed, a Colorado survey released in 2014 found no increase in marijuana use by high schoolers, and since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, car fatalities are at a historic low, crime is down, and tax revenue for the state is up — by $70 million dollars in 2014 alone. At the same time, a federal survey of Colorado residents in 2014 found the state now has the second-highest consumption rate of marijuana, and that self-reported use of cannabis has jumped by 22 percent since legalization. The study reports that 1 in 8 people over the age of 12 in Colorado has consumed marijuana within the last month. Clearly, it remains to be seen how this social experiment works in the longterm — but for now, Colorado is widely seen as a successful case study for recreational legalization.
"We are the eyes of the nation right now. Everyone is looking at us all the time. If you're watching the news and politics isn't on, then they're talking about weed here. I think legalizing has destigmatized a little bit, but there's still people from other states whose minds will never be changed," Darrel said. (His parents, for example.)
We left the diner, and I attended the Women Grow conference all day, where women spoke about everything from treating cancer patients and pets, to mobilizing local moms for legalization activism, to obtaining venture capitalist funding for baked edible businesses. Sitting at the conference, overwhelmed by my introduction to what may become the fastest-growing industry of our time, I thought about Darrel's words to me at the diner: "It's really big business. It's hard to tell people until they see it."
It wasn't until 2 a.m. that night, after an evening trailing local stoner girls in Denver, that I arrived back at B and B 420, and finally breathed a sigh of relief — I was home, or at least, a version of it. This was not the dusty, grimy house I'd just been hotboxed in for three hours. This was clean. Cleaner than clean and nicer than nice. I washed the smell of weed and hash and mildew off of me, and switched the shower head stream to its massage setting, just because I could.
As I dried myself off, I noticed a faint smell of marijuana on the fresh towels, like a weed detergent, or a weed potpourri. Eau de weed. Not overpowering, just lightly fragrant, reminding me to make myself at home. Like warm complementary cookies on a tray.