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How Hotels Are Adapting to Cannabis Legalization

May 22, 2019
Look for chain hotels to create 420-friendly brands in coming years. (filo/iStock)
In most legal cannabis states, consumption is allowed only in private residences. Cannabis enthusiasts are prohibited by local laws from consuming in public—as well as in most public housing, hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and other venues.

That ‘where-to-smoke’ dilemma is forcing change in local laws and the hospitality industry.

There are a handful of consumption lounges in San Francisco, but outside the Bay Area most consumers are out of luck.

That’s left millions of legal consumers in a bind. Cannabis may be legal to grow, sell, purchase, and possess—but if you’re just visiting a legal state, it can be almost impossible to legally light up.

That ‘where-to-smoke’ dilemma is slowly forcing changes in both local laws and the hospitality industry.

In recent months, a number of states have moved on reform measures:

  • Colorado: The Legislature recently approved a measure that would allow “marijuana hospitality spaces” where cannabis may be consumed. It would also permit retail cannabis stores to create similar consumption spaces. That bill, which also amends Colorado’s Clean Air act to provide an exception for these hospitality spaces, is heading to the state’s governor for final approval.
  • Nevada: Earlier this month the Las Vegas City Council voted to approve Nevada’s first marijuana consumption lounges, which will offer safe locations for tourists and residents to partake in cannabis. “I’m not advocating smoking marijuana,” Councilwoman Michele Fiore told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “but what I am advocating for is making sure we as a government agency do not create criminals by basically not giving them an outlet after we’ve passed a state law.”

A Day in the Life of a Cannabis Lounge

Cannabis at Mainstream Hotels

Many cannabis consumers already get around the obvious risks of public cannabis smoking by instead consuming edibles, cannabis-infused tinctures and beverages. There are already a variety of independent 420-friendly hotels and resorts in legal states and across Canada, where people can stretch out and light up without fear of prosecution.

But experts say that until cannabis is legalized under U.S. federal law, the nation’s mainstream hospitality industry—companies like Wyndham, Marriott, Hilton, and Best Western—will continue to tread carefully when it comes to marijuana.

“What we see more and more today is the hospitality industry reaching out to their legal providers to help rewrite their policies, procedures, manuals and operational plans on how to deal with this,” Louis J. Terminello, chair of the Hospitality, Alcohol and Leisure Industry Group at the Greenspoon Marder law firm, told Leafly.

“But it’s constantly changing; it’s a moving target because legislation surrounding the use continues to move on in the United States, and at this point we’re only second-guessing and questioning.”

Most mainstream hotels, Terminello said, want to accommodate cannabis consumers, “while at the same time trying to respect the rights of those who do not want to be exposed to cannabis smoking.”

The Lobby Bar at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: Alcohol service 24-7, but no cannabis allowed—yet.

Change Is Coming

Some hotels still offer rooms where tobacco smoking is allowed. And they charge expensive cleaning fees to a guest who goes against the rules and lights up in a non-smoking room. Yet many cannabis consumers still risk those hefty fees to light up—as any guest who’s strolled down a hallway in a Colorado hotel can tell you.

So it is possible that we might, at some point, see hotel rooms reserved specifically for cannabis smokers?

“I think it would be a huge mistake would be to try to blend [cannabis] into existing hospitably brands,” Theresa Meier Conley, an associate professor of the practice at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business Marketing Department, told Leafly.

The risk for a major hotel chain, she added, would be a negative response from their mainstream tourism and business customers when it comes to on-site cannabis consumption. There are also concerns regarding younger guests.

At the same time, most major chain hotels offer alcohol in lobby bars and restaurants as well as in each room’s mini-fridge.

A vision of the future? Inside the Harvest cannabis lounge in San Francisco.

420-friendly Boutique Brands

Conley believes big chain hotels, resorts and other spaces within the hospitality sector could best serve themselves and cannabis consumers by creating 420-friendly sub-brands, like boutique hotels known for their comfort with cannabis.

In spite of the stigma still surrounding marijuana Conley acknowledges there is a growing market for cannabis-friendly public venues.

“I think what you have now is a real tension,” she said. “You’ve got [cannabis] tourism coming, you’ve got consumers. You still have a need for people to consume, and to consume in a safe space that is clearly away from underage guests.”

Consumers in the Driver’s Seat

What we might also see in the near future, according to Conley, is the hospitality sector charging consumers premium prices at cannabis-branded and marketed hotels. These would be similar to resorts, vineyards and distilleries that have wine and whiskey tours, and on-site beverage tastings.

“Part of that premium will be education, along with a safe and comfortable environment,” she said.

She also expects consumers to start seeing more sophisticated marketing and branding directed specifically towards cannabis enthusiasts looking for a relaxing and fun 420 experience.

Because cannabis has become big business, “consumers are in the driver’s seat,” she noted, “upping the experience, driving down the price. And that’s why we’re in a situation right now that is critical for this industry; for hospitality to really consider their role.”

Too Much Money to Ignore

And of course, the financial potential of cannabis-friendly public venues may become too much for both state legislatures and hospitality companies to ignore.

“Are you suggesting that money and politics may collide?” laughed David Helbraun. He’s a founding partner at Helbraun Levey, a New York-based law firm that specializes in the cannabis and hospitality industries.

“Eventually it’s got to come down to that,” he told Leafly. “In New York there’s a lot of jockeying going on between the legislature and the governor’s office. At some point the pressure is going to be too much, to get part of these tax dollars.”

A Tip: ‘Don’t be a Jerk’

And many of Helbraun’s clients in the hospitality industry, especially in the Empire State, already see the changes coming.

“I think a lot of people [in hospitality] are winking [at cannabis use] and just saying ‘hey, keep it cool.’ In New York City you’ll find places to consume. Don’t be a jerk. If you’re a jerk, you’re going to get busted.”

Bruce Kennedy's Bio Image

Bruce Kennedy

Bruce Kennedy is an award-winning reporter, editor, and producer based in Colorado. He has covered the legal cannabis industry since 2010.

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  • Daniel Brown

    Pretty easy in legal states actually… if you know you’ll be where it’s going to be difficult to get away with smoking it, simply get an oil cartridge with battery instead. It doesn’t smell much to begin with and dissipates quickly, no one will ever know or care. Also, even when smoked, cannabis smell doesn’t linger long term like tobacco smoke, you can easily get away with smoking reasonable amounts in a motel/hotel room bathroom with the fan on and the door closed. By reasonable I mean pipes including smaller bongs but continually burning joints/blunts would certainly be excluded from being reasonable.

    Disclaimer: I’m not encouraging breaking hotel rules, but literally if you take caution to the point that no one notices then you’ve already covered their concerns, no harm, no foul. Just be super considerate and be happy you’re in a legal state to begin with! 🙂

    • Don Podlas

      Very well stated. I’m fortunate to be living in a legal state (OR.), and that is great advice. I seldom go any where, no, I never go anywhere without my cartridge set-up. A happy day is a full charge on my battery! Seriously, oil carts are the way to go…I still enjoy flower on occasion but with the advent of concentrates that’s mostly what I do….dabs at home and cartridges on the road..peace

  • Taylor Williamson

    I find this article funny. “How are Hotels Adapting?” Really? You must not have stayed in,well,pretty much any hotel (aside from the Four Seasons, for example,and even then…still…) the last…say 15 years. 75% of hotel hallways emanate a marijuana smell already when one is walking through, I didnt realize the industry needed to “adapt”. I smell weed all the time in my travels staying at various hotels around this country. I guess it makes sense in that case, for hotels are notorious for people smoking weed in their rooms, it figures they’d be the first to “adapt” or maybe they’re just finally publicly admitting it.

  • taraterm3

    can anybody out there be happy without this stuff??? am I the only one?

    • greg

      Inference: People like me that consume cannabis need it to be happy. Don’t be a jerk. I’m not trying to recruit you guys. You’re obviously superior to us that use cannabis. Congratulations, you win…nothing.

      • Melissa Deandino

        I like ur comment!!!! lol!!! They do think they’re better than us “potheads”!!!!!

        • Kenneth Aaron

          The stigma continues.

      • Alien Wired

        Very superior…. Size large ego.. Yes, she’s the ONLY person that is happy in the world without weed.

        No one else can be happy, they have to ingest something to be able to attain their “happy”… hehe

        It can’t be used for any other reason, NONE, and you certainly can’t just “like it”… Heaven forbid someone ENJOY something in life. I mean, we’re all glad that you can sit there and be happy doing nothing, but, after a while I get bored..

        It’s not saying I haven’t tried it, you know, to just sit there with my thoughts, and just be content and happy. But, why do that when I can have fun contemplating the experiences that are provided by cannabis consumption, that sitting there like a bump on a log do not provide?

        And what is it, exactly, about other peoples happiness that you should be so concerned to begin with?

      • AC

        I’m happy when sober, and happy when stoned. It’s just another perspective!
        And I must add, 100% of my 10 coworkers go home and drink at least a bottle of wine every night. I smoke instead, but they would never dream of it. Too funny to me…if alcohol disappeared, that would make a lot of unhappy people!

    • Melissa Deandino

      Dont comment if u don’t smoke!!!

    • Melissa Deandino

      And btw I am very happy!!!!!!

    • Dave

      I would believe you are happy without it if you weren’t so full of anger that you needed to comment on this.

    • Kenneth Aaron

      Yes, you are the only one. Bragging on the internet is silly.

    • Howard Bruce


      Are you for real? Do you realize how many people out there that have a true medical reason for being a pothead? I stopped for 16 years to try and live life like you. I think where the problem is coming from is YOUR perception of happy.

      There are many of us out there that cannot find that “Happy” you describe as your natural high. We have things going on that unfortunately our chemical imbalance that many of us, share cause us to need “SOMETHING”.

      Of course we all could take prescribed meds, but after awhile those meds are causing damages to our bodies such as liver damage, etc. I do not think that anyone “against” pot is going to wish on their fellow mankind.

      A little about me:
      ^ Cancer- Waldenstrom Macrobulenimia (WM on google) Stage 4 Diagnosed August, 2017′
      ^ After 6 months of Chemo HELL in remission since May, 2018′
      ^ Been a Diabetic since 1995
      ^caused nephropathy in all arms and legs
      ^Psoriatic Arthritis – Diagnosed in the 1970’s
      ^ Chronic Migraines – Diagnosed in the 1970’s
      ^IBS-D – Diagnosed in the 1970’s

      I know that your prior statements led everyone to believe you do not understand why one might not be able to reach your happiness levels, but I hope this may clear up a thing or two for you.

      I would not be alive without it. God Bless Everyone!

    • Laha86

      Do you consume alcohol? I don’t. I do smoke cannabis. I don’t judge on my drinking friends the way they judge on me for not drinking. I have had drinkers try to shame me for smoking cannabis only to watch them crack a beer at 9am. This was camping, yes I fired up first thing you bet yah!!!. Can’t we all just chill and stop judging each other’s personal business? It feels like the whole world could use a joint these days!!

    • justmeKC

      I don’t use it for enjoyment. I use it for pain I have from being in Emergency services and the injuries and overuse of my hands and feet plus the back pain. 21 years took its toll.

    • 360dunk

      You don’t seem very happy, taraterm. Happy people don’t attempt to shame others for exercising their freedom of choice. Trust me, you’re no better than the next person.

  • Alien Wired

    If you’re a jerk, you’re going to get busted. <— or if you're in the "minority box".

    Which is the WHOLE problem in a nutshell ain't it?

    • Kenneth Aaron

      Yes, that is a sad truth, Smoking while not white is more dangerous for the smoker.

  • Kenneth Aaron

    It’s either legal or not. Jeesh. Nevada might do it well. But, my advice to smokers, is use a hand held pipe, just light the ‘corner’ of the bowl, and keep the smoke to a minimum. Joints are basically “Foggers,” and will get ya in trouble in an enclosed space. Even in Amsterdam, you can still get tossed out of a hotel with no refund for smoking. In fact, they charge you for the fire dept having to come out and evict you.

  • AC

    We are very laid back here in Oregon.

  • 360dunk

    Cigarette smoke leaves smells in the hotel room and stains the curtains – cannabis does not.