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Marijuana-Friendly Events




By Selena Fragassi

 

As of 2017, eight states have now legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Among them: California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. That’s nearly a fifth of the country. With so many official municipalities giving a “green” light, many have been wondering when and if marijuana could be the next big add-on to meetings and events?

“In the states where legalization has been occurring, there is more of a comfort level, (, and normalization,” admits Bec Koop who resides in Colorado, one of the very first to pass legislation. Around these parts, her company, Irie Weddings + Events (formerly Cannabis Concierge), is a well-known commodity for those planners looking to coordinate marijuana-friendly events. “We are a one-stop shop and can assist from everything such as planning, floral arrangements, bud bar services, party favors, gifts—you name it,” she furthers. “Whether we do it physically or have the right connections with people in our network to make it happen, we can create magical events for people that are cannabis-friendly.”

Most of Koop’s clients are brides and grooms who either partake in marijuana as part of their lifestyle or want to provide the opportunity for guests, but Koop has also seen requests for holiday parties, product launches, bachelor and bachelorette parties and reunions. “I think it might take a little longer on the corporate side since, by nature, it tends to be more conservative,” she says, admitting that’s one of the reasons she recently rebranded her company from Cannabis Concierge to Irie Weddings + Events because having the idea so up front and center “can sometimes deter people.”

Getting the Mainstream to Light Up

Even so, there has been growing mainstream interest for Koop’s services. Her company has been listed on TheKnot.com and WeddingWire.com. “Now we are at the point of people contacting us saying, ‘We want to be on your [mailing] list” says Koop while another new part of her business that has been very well received is helping consult different venues on creating policies for marijuana use that are based on personal preferences. “We are educating owners on how to have a cannabis-friendly venue and making sure they are not offending their guests or their own moral and ethical values. We help them digest all of it by approaching their property individually rather than as a bulk whole.”

Koop says she will now get a nearly 50 percent response rate when cold calling venues to host cannabis-friendly events versus 2014, when she founded her company and the average was more like 1 out of 10 that said yes or maybe. “It’s changed dramatically,” she admits.

One of the venues she regularly works with in the local area is Aspen Canyon Ranch in Parshall, Colorado—also the first Unique Venues member that is openly marijuana-friendly.

“When it became legalized, we decided we were going to allow people full use on our property,” says Owner Ryan Collins of the 500-acre dude ranch set along the William Forks River. It has 12 cabins with varying sizes of baths and bedrooms and camping grounds for up to 1,000 people. The ranch mostly caters to wedding parties and yoga and corporate retreats. And, in August, it will also be the grounds for the first-of-its-kind High Country Cup, an event coordinated by Koop that offers beer, wine, and marijuana tastings, as well as entertainment and activities. “[Our guests] absolutely love it,” adds Collins. “We figured we let people bring alcohol if they want, so why not let them use cannabis?”



Isn’t It the Same as Serving Alcohol?

It’s a point that Maggie Glass brings up, too. She’s the area director of sales for The Falls Event Center in nearby Littleton, Colorado—part of a conglomerate of eight raw venues that provide flexible space for weddings and other social and corporate events. The Colorado location is currently the only one that allows marijuana at events.

“It’s not like we don’t allow people to smoke cigarettes—they just have to go to designated areas. We also allow alcohol, because that’s legal here,” says Glass. “We also pride ourselves on being vendor-friendly; there’s very few things you can’t do here. So, we asked ourselves, ‘If we don’t allow this practice, are we going against what we say we are?’ Especially being here in a market that has determined marijuana’s legalization. …But that doesn’t mean we don’t create parameters around how it happens.”

Creating Boundaries … and Unique Setups

First, Glass says, there’s no smoking of any kind, even vapor, within the building. “That follows Colorado law,” she says, noting that there are designated areas on the outdoor private property where guests are allowed to smoke. Edibles are another option that can be utilized indoors, for example if the caterer includes the plant as part of the recipe for desserts or served appetizers. Most importantly, per local law, the sale of marijuana cannot be done on-site. “That has to all be done outside our control, but is something that Irie Weddings + Events can help with,” says Glass, also noting they work often with the planning company.

Koop and her team have coordinated several unique options for events, one of the most popular of which is a “bud bar,” like an open bar for alcohol with various jars on display that have different kinds of buds in them and “budtenders” that can prepare the materials for guests to try.

“Our typical bud bar setup is a beautiful display along with a variety of apparatuses,” says Koop. “We will have a chalkboard menu, that goes into detail about the different strains, just like an open bar for alcohol where there’s a specialty cocktail listed out. Our descriptions offer more information on the scents and potency level and what the strain is known for in terms of how it affects you.” In this situation, it’s meant to be an educational situation, says Koop, who is also working on developing cannabis mixology and crafted cocktails. “This is a very different guided experience that we hope can help change people’s mindset. Getting people to talk about it in an open setting takes away some of the stigma.”

Collins agrees. “If planners or guests want info on it we are more than happy to provide that. In Colorado we are inundated with education on marijuana. And once guests see it and talk about it like they’re tasting wine, that normalizes everything for them and they are more relaxed.”

Of course, Koop never wants to push marijuana for guests that may feel uneasy. “We really take added measures to make sure people are always comfortable,” she says, noting a lot of conversation is put into the planning with the venue owner and client. “I’ll talk to clients and find out what percent of attendees partake and what percent would be offended, so we can best accommodate it for their personal preferences, but also find a way to maybe make it more discreet or more moderate so as not to offend family members.” Active military is another big concern since they can’t be around it at all given strict drug policies.

In situations like these, Koop and her team can get creative for outdoor ideas, too. “We’ve had party buses parked in front of venues so that people are physically stepping off property lines and stepping into this private smoking lounge,” she says, as one example. “That same bus may pick guests up at certain designated times and can do a smoke run and then come back and drop guests back off.”



Not Everyone is a Fan

But for as much as Koop, Collins, and Glass have had positive experiences and feedback, not everyone is on board with marijuana at events just yet. In Denver, for example, the local CBS affiliate has reported that many planners that were surveyed by the Visit Denver CVB last fall had explicitly said they will not be bringing important convention business to the popular 16th Street Mall area due in part to the drug culture that permeates the area and provides an unwelcome vibe and concerns of safety. “Denver seems less safe now that pot is legalized,” one participant commented.

A recent 4/20 rally in Denver’s Civic Center also recently received a three-year ban from the office of Mayor Michael Hancock after an alleged series of violations for “noise complaints, untimely trash removal, limited security guards, unlicensed food vendors, and street closures,” according to the Denver Post, although many decried bureaucratic red tape for the rationale.

In Del Mar, California, a contract for an educational event about medical marijuana to be held on a fairground site was also rescinded after much fanfare by property owners, local trustees, residents, even young students.

“As a state agency, I don’t think you should be in the business of promoting marijuana use,” one resident said. “I think that sends the wrong message to our young people. … I just ask you to be good neighbors.”

Many planners we asked to be interviewed for this story also didn’t want to be on the record about their views, fearing it might hurt their reputation.

“It’s still very much a taboo topic, though over time it’s becoming less so,” says Glass. “There are maybe one or two green hotels in Colorado that have opened up and been marijuana-friendly but the predominance is not there and many have not publicly announced their stance.”



Industry Events are a New Segment

It’s been a tough sell even for some industry events, says Glass. “I know from talking with some people that the dispensaries also have a tough time coming up with places—so it’s not just the social events but the vendors themselves that need to have a business meeting or summit to test edible products or things like that, and they’re very limited in where they can go.”

The Falls held its first large-scale industry event with Koop in February called the Cannabis Wedding Expo that brought in more than 1,000 people. “Honestly, we were worried there would be backlash about it, but there was none,” says Glass. “In fact we received overwhelming positive feedback. Now, maybe that’s because once people found out we did it, they may have simply chosen not to talk to us anymore, but we received no public negativity towards us.”

Aspen Canyon Ranch is also a welcome place for marijuana industry events. “It’s such a big industry now, they are becoming corporate and they like to use us because we are involved in what they do,” says Collins.

Koop says she and her team are looking to expand the Cannabis Wedding Expo to other areas in California, Oregon, and Washington State as well.

“When we do events out-of-state it’s a bit more challenging. We have to be fully aware of the different state regulations,” she says, going as far as hiring local lawyers to ensure they are covered. Even in Colorado, Koop has to know all the particulars of different areas. “We know if it’s something in the mountains like the Breckenridge or Keystone areas, a lot of the venues there are on national land, so that will be a no-go.”

Catering to Out-of-State Enthusiasts

At this point, Koop estimates her Irie Weddings + Events clientele is a 50-50 split of Denver residents and out-of-state visitors, which has kept business booming. “With Colorado already being such a huge destination wedding location, we are attracting cannabis enthusiasts here all the time, “she says, noting that Georgia and Florida residents are two of the most frequent populations of visitors.

Collins finds that to be the case, too. “I’d say around 95 percent of our business comes from out-of-state. A lot of southern areas, like Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas tend to be our biggest clientele, but we do market to cannabis groups and individual users.”

There’s an extra level of service Collins provides for travelers, too, such as offering paraphernalia. “We don’t want guests to have to spend a lot of money, especially when they’re not from the area and can’t take it home with them,” he says, noting they also work well with dispensaries in town for purchasing. “We can’t sell it on the ranch, but for those coming in through Denver International, there are probably 150 dispensaries from there to us that we work closely with and can provide a good discount.”

To Puff or to Pass

The reception has been incredible at Aspen Canyon Ranch, says Collins, because people enjoy the freedom to be able to do what they want. “It’s not just cannabis,” he says. “We don’t care if your wedding goes until 5 a.m. When someone rents the venue we want guests to treat it just like it’s their backyard. That’s just our niche, we don’t say no to a lot of things.”

And so far, there haven’t been too many considerable issues. “There might be some that have had a little too much, but that’s just like the risk with alcohol,” Collins admits. “You will always have people that go overboard.”

“I really think that marijuana will be legal everywhere eventually, it’s inevitable,” continues Collins. “And once it is, guests will want that extra freedom to feel at home.”

Glass adds, “I think we are excited about any opportunity to set ourselves apart from our competition, and do things that will attract people to have events with us, including marijuana. We haven’t taken it to point of publically marketing it and putting strategy behind it yet, but that doesn’t mean we won’t.”

Koop also thinks that within the next three to five years, marijuana will be an acceptable package to add on to weddings and social events, which are always on the cutting edge anyway. “As far as corporate, I think they will stay more hands-off for the most part until it’s federally legal or more specific drug testing comes around that allows people to indulge but not be in violation of company policies [since marijuana can stay present in the system for weeks],” Koop says. “But I have seen corporate groups that know how to have a lot of fun too, so maybe it will be sooner than we think.”

Get Connected

Aspen Canyon Ranch
Parshall, CO
UniqueVenues.com/AspenCanyon
(970) 725.3600

Irie Weddings + Events
Centennial, CO
irieweddingsandevents.com
(720) 460.0633

The Falls Event Center in Littleton
Littleton, CO
UniqueVenues.com/fallseventctrlittleton
(720) 387.9685 
Talk to a Venue Specialist: 1-877-244-6110