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Rocky Mountain High | The Sunday Times October 16 2014

 Rocky mountain high | The Sunday Times

The legalisation of cannabis has sparked an unexpectedly upmarket tourist boom in Denver, Colorado

Chris Haslam Published: 21 September 2014

I take pride in my work. No matter where in the world my job has taken me, my copy has always been filed on deadline. This time, however, I think I might be about to let my standards slip. I’m semi-conscious in a hot tub in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The Grateful Dead are on the stereo, the moon is hypnotising me and I’ve lost track of time because I am utterly, completely stoned. It’s not my fault. I had to do my research, after all.

Last January, Colorado legalised the recreational use of marijuana. From the start, local entrepreneurs saw the tourism potential, and now that budding industry has blossomed into a gold rush. Like it or not, cannabis tourism is now a phenomenon in the state. It’s a story that needed to be reported from the inside, the boss said, so last week I flew into Denver — the appropriately named Mile High City — and checked in at a rather special little hotel.

The Adagio looks like the kind of place where your granny would stay on an antiques-buying trip. Better that she doesn’t: this Victorian mansion is now America’s first Bud & Breakfast, a hotel catering exclusively to marijuana aficionados. I arrive in time for the 4:20 Happy Hour. (You’ll see the digits wherever stoners gather, 4.20pm being the socially acceptable hour to indulge.) The door opens, and in the same way other hotels might proffer a welcome drink, the receptionist offers a pipe loaded with a fragrant strain called Strawberry Cough. It makes my face melt and my feet fall off.

In the drawing room — art on the walls, clever books and a grand piano — I’m introduced to the other guests: a college professor and his wife, a biologist, a pair of lawyers and a clean-cut young couple from Missouri. There’s no ripped denim, no Bob Marley and no greasy hair. Verdi is playing in the background and the guests are happily, sociably, gurningly off their faces on the unlimited free connoisseur-grade weed.

“I cater for respectable, middle-class America,” says the owner, Joel C Schneider— a dead ringer for Robert De Niro. A New York lawyer and pot enthusiast of 30 years’ standing, he opened the Adagio in April. Business is so good that he’s taking the Bud & Breakfast formula into the Rockies, with properties opening next month in the ski resorts of Silverthorne and Mountain Vista.

Stoned skiers? In America? Seriously? “Responsible use is what we’re all about,” Schneider says. “If you’re unfamiliar with marijuana, we have counsellors who will explain the effects and help you choose the strain and dosage that’s right for you.”


The Adagio ‘Bud & Breakfast’

Anyone not staying somewhere as welcoming as the Adagio may seek their introduction to Denver’s dope scene on a marijuana tour. Dozens of operators have set up, charging tourists up to £100 for a spin around the Mile High City in a smoke-filled van. My advice: don’t. “Anyone with $500 and a limo can open a tour company and charge people to drive them to a dispensary to buy weed,” says Mark Prescott of Cultivated Travel, an upmarket tour operator. “Don’t waste your money.”

It’s perfectly easy to visit the licensed dispensaries yourself. There are about 500, and they offer all the hand-holding you need. Only in America could buying drugs be transformed into an uplifting retail experience. Entering Native Roots Apothecary is like walking into an Apple Store: all bright lights, high tech and blonde teeth (

My server is Audrey, a blue-eyed, all-American cheerleader type. “So, I’ll be your bud-tender today,” she smiles, opening an apothecary’s jar of pale green weed. “This is the Platinum Sour Diesel. You’ll get the diesel and mentholated lemon on the nose, and a lingering finish. The effect is awesome.It starts with an intense and prolonged head rush, before, like, totally numbing the body.”

I tell Audrey I want the weed equivalent of half a shandy. She opens another jar. “This is Flo,” she says. “It’s a Purple Thai and Afghani sativa hybrid, and very mild. But if you’d prefer not to smoke, we have alternatives.” She lays them out on the glass counter: cookies, candy, dermal patches, drops for spiking tea, chocolate, an energy drink and, most popular of all, the vape — an ecigarette that delivers a hit of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) instead of nicotine. She smiles again. I buy the lot.

The problem is, this organically grown, locally sourced, lovingly created mary jane is extraordinarily powerful — especially when it’s made into innocuous-looking candies and chocolates. The next day, during the Adagio’s Wake-and-Bake breakfast (“Enjoy an uplifting sativa strain and a cup of fresh-brewed coffee as our chef prepares a gourmet breakfast”), someone recommends that I take a bite out of a Mile High chocolate bar before setting off on a bike ride down the Platte River Trail. Apparently, the high sativa content will enhance the aesthetic dimension of the expedition.

Feeling like Alice, I eat two squares before setting off. The trail is 29 miles long. The chocolate kicks in after a mile and a half, and the expedition grinds to a psychedelic halt. The trees are, like, so green, and the buildings are, like, so art deco, and Denver’s geriatric power walkers, who keep overtaking me, are so fast. I stare at cars like a halfwitted sheep for half an hour. Then I sit under a tree and watch an ant for another half an hour. Then I have an urgent need for ice cream. The physics of cycling are suddenly implausible, so I push the bike along a marshmallow sidewalk to a shop, where I order a large scoop of mint choc chip.

“This is a pizza joint, dude,” says the guy behind the counter. Whatever, man. It’s the best pizza I’ve ever had.

That night, at a comedy show where the prizes are bags of cannabis, The Denver Post’s pot critic, Jake Browne, explains the appeal. “Denver is to weed what Bordeaux is to wine,” he says. “Tourists are coming to Denver to try the finest pot money can buy, but many don’t want to smoke, so edibles are the next big thing.” Chefs are learning how to incorporate THC and cannabidiol into dishes. “Pot,” Jake says, “is going mainstream.”

Chris Hageseth, CEO of Green Man Cannabis, hopes so. He’s building a £20m visitor attraction on an aeroplane graveyard near Denver airport. “I’m calling it the weedery,” he says, “like brewery or winery. It will allow tourists to see the weed from seed to joint, then sample the goods.” He picked the airport location because “it will make that layover a lot more fun”, but with more US states poised to legalise cannabis, the weedery is just part of a wider strategy to turn Green Man into a nationwide brand — “like Coca-Cola, or Budweiser”, he says.

As soon as I’m straight enough to drive, I head for the mountains, checking in at the only other 420-friendly property in Denver. Cliff House Lodge is in Morrison, 18 miles west of downtown, on the lower slopes of the Rockies — and bang in the middle of the summer of love.

The B&B is run by Angela and Daniel Bernhardt, who, despite living in a haze of weed, run a slick yet deeply charming operation. Their stoner-friendly cottages have outdoor hot tubs, and the mountain- view deck is a magnet for local growers such as Brian and Jon, who are a bit sniffy about the whole dispensary scene.

“When Prohibition ended, the market was flooded with cheap, dangerous alcohol,” Brian says. “Legalisation of pot has had the opposite effect. Growers who worked in isolation can now swap strains with each other and create finer, more nuanced products in small batches, just like fine wines. Dispensaries, on the other hand, need volume, so quality is, er...” He pauses to watch a hummingbird, then gives me a quizzical look. “What were we talking about again?”

Somehow — and I have no recollection how — I make the flight home. BA’s in-flight magazine is called High Life. It doesn’t know the half of it.

The following morning, I touch down in London, switch on my phone and get an email from the Adagio. “In all the chaos, we forgot to charge you,” it says. Crazy stoner kids.

Chris Haslam travelled as a guest of British Airways, which flies direct from London to Denver; from £610. Doubles at the Adagio start at £215, B&B (00 1 303-370 6911,  Hot-tub cottages at Cliff House Lodge start at £98, B&B (697 9732,

Editor’s note: Chris’s copy was filed on time and to length. The spelling was unorthodox, though