Denver International Airport (DIA) reported a 1.1 percent year-over-year decline between 2012 and 2013 in passengers traveling through its facility. However, since recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado in January 2014, it has created a buzz around the world, and many are starting to compare CO to Amsterdam, calling it the “Alpine Amsterdam.” While that remains to be seen, many believe that pot tourism will become a profitable industry here, and businesses and residents alike are bracing for it. As pot tourism establishes itself as a legitimate business in CO, DIA authorities appear to be getting ready for potential “stoner” walling with travelers who may still be in cloud nine. The tourist information desk at the Denver airport now carries a list of 20 places in the city where legal pot can be purchased. They may have a lot more work to do.
In order to get a perspective on this industry, in 2012, Amsterdam reported 1.5 million of all its tourists were there for marijuana consumption. Though it is unlikely that CO will see such an influx of pot tourists right away, an increase in total travelers should be expected nonetheless. The biggest hurdle facing the airport may not be about managing an increase in passenger volume. It may be in managing the passengers themselves.
First, there is the issue of illegal transport of marijuana through the airport. Trained dogs can identify luggage carrying illegal drugs. However, it can mistake a tourist trying to take a souvenir back home. This can put unnecessary strain on the limited workforce, and create diversions for the law enforcement.
Second, and perhaps more serious, is the issue of passengers flying high, before they have even set foot on the plane. While a “bud brawl” is not something that is generally associated with marijuana consumers, other passengers around them can certainly get offended due to smell, whether they support the legalization, or not. This would be especially true with children around. The officials will have to train for such scenarios. It cannot be too lax in these situations, and it cannot be too strict either. After all, there are bars at the airport where people are hammered before flying. Any kind of discrimination against these travelers who may still be high could turn into lawsuits and negative publicity.
On the other hand, DIA authorities are more likely to spend more time managing the clumsiness or forgetfulness of these passengers. Going through an airport is generally not a likeable experience for many, especially when the person ahead of you is holding up the line. As part of getting ready for pot tourism, perhaps DIA could use dedicated check through just for them. This would create a natural separation from other travelers who do not care for the smell. It could also turn into a good publicity for the airport, and its security personnel. A “pot tourism friendly” designation would help grow the business, and potentially allow better airport management.
Finally, it may be a good idea to make sure that there are plenty of “munchies centers” that are friendly, and well stocked for any Mary Jane or Doobie Brothers traveling through the airport. They should leave Denver with a sweet taste in their mouth that can serve as a good promotion for this new industry, and subtly welcome them here. This can also help support the fringe businesses of the local economy. How DIA gets ready for pot tourism in CO could set the benchmark for other states that are considering joining the Mile High city in this exclusive club.
Opinion by Amit Singh