When doctors in Wisconsin wanted to put Bonnie Demos on a morphine pump for pain, she decided instead to move to Michigan and grow her own medicine.
Demos started out in 2013 as a medical marijuana patient and caregiver, but Michigan’s voter-approved legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana has created new opportunities. She and her husband, Cliff, decided to open their property for cannabis-themed overnight stays.
Their Manistee Farms CannaVentures operation near the small town of Luther, located about 85 miles north of Grand Rapids, is one of a handful of Michigan sites listed on Bud & Breakfast, a vacation rental website that caters to travelers looking for marijuana-friendly accommodations.
“The best thing I like about it is watching people really fall in love with this area,” Demos said. “We have all of these beautiful kayaking rivers. We have awesome natural surroundings; it is totally unique.”
Guests at Manistee Farms stay in a camper outfitted with cannabis decor that’s parked on the Demoses’ property, which includes a small, chemical-free grow operation. People who want an all-inclusive experience receive a welcome package that includes vaporizer cartridges or cannabis for consumption and various cannabis-infused oils, balms and even coffee filters.
According to Demos, the guest experience focuses on more than just smoking marijuana. She hosts tours of the farm, where she also grows St. John’s wort and other medicinal plants, and wants people to relax, enjoy nature and feel better.
Guests at the farm have access to a private gazebo and fire pit in an area frequented by a variety of wildlife. The property is also close to the ORV trails and kayaking opportunities in Lake County.
The Demoses, who plan to add a second camper and small barn spa with an infrared salt sauna yet this summer, started offering overnight cannabis-themed getaways this spring. So far, visitors have hailed from Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and as far away as England. Many guests have experience with cannabis vacations in Colorado, she said. Some visitors want to have fun and get high on vacation, while others want to learn more about cannabis as medicine and how to consume it.
“They are here to have fun and reconnect with nature,” she said. “The connection to nature is very vital, and I think you need to connect back to nature again.”
Manistee Farms CannaVentures is among the early operations in the tourism and hospitality industry looking to take advantage of the legal cannabis market in Michigan. Industry insiders cite the state’s reputation as a tourist destination, its well-established food and beverage industry, and diverse nature-based recreational offerings as positioning it to attract a new segment of visitors once cannabis products become more widely available to consumers in the coming months.
Wait and see
Just how the cannabis tourism industry evolves in Michigan hinges in large part on how the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) plans to regulate the sector and whether local municipalities allow recreational marijuana businesses and events.
Details around vacation rentals are still being worked out, according to David Harns, communications manager for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which includes the Marijuana Regulatory Agency.
On July 3, the state issued emergency rules indicating that it was creating licenses for marijuana event organizers, temporary events and festivals, and designated consumption establishments (DCEs). The establishments allow marijuana to be consumed, but not purchased, unless the license holder also possesses a retailer or microbusiness license and has a separate area for consumption.
Until the state agency finalizes the rules and begins accepting applications for recreational cannabis businesses on Nov. 1, festivals and marijuana-centric events continue to operate in a legal gray area.
For her part, Demos says she is watching and waiting to see how the regulations come together.
“They’ve got to settle those laws a little bit; they are up in the air,” she said.
In announcing the emergency rules, the state aims to give local governments time to decide whether they want to ban recreational marijuana businesses prior to the MRA’s processing of license applications. The emergency rules expire in six months and may be renewed for another six months, according to Harns.
The MRA is treating designated consumption establishments like other licenses, meaning that if a municipality lacks a local ordinance, the state has no basis to deny them, Harns said. However, festivals and temporary events need local approval to apply for a license.
The designated consumption establishments have to be separate from any other business activities, meaning they aren’t allowed to sell food or alcohol, but the law permits people to bring their own cannabis, edibles and other products. Selling marijuana-infused products requires a retailer or microbusiness license in addition to the DCE license.
Since people cannot consume cannabis in public, the additional license types allow a commercial space to permit adults to consume marijuana products or host festivals and special events, given they receive local approval, Harns said.
“The only limits would be at the local level,” he said. “If the municipality approves and you meet all of the other criteria, then we will issue the license.”
The next Colorado?
Some experts predict a robust cannabis tourism sector to develop in Michigan, similar to Colorado, where regulations seem to be reasonable in terms of limiting the availability of licensing.
However, many tourism and hospitality groups continue to take a wait-and-see approach to the industry, particularly as the rules-making process plays out in the coming months.
That includes Experience Grand Rapids, the convention and visitors bureau for Kent County.
“We are still in the process of evaluating the impact of cannabis on the tourism industry,” Stephanie Bradley, public relations manager at Experience Grand Rapids, told MiBiz via email. “Currently, there are ongoing discussions with our primary stakeholders, peers throughout Michigan as well as around the U.S. on the topic of cannabis tourism.”
Industry experts, including John Lipford, an affiliate professor in hospitality and tourism management at Grand Valley State University, say the extent to which Michigan becomes a cannabis destination depends on how the MRA regulates business licenses.
“(In Colorado) the demand for this type of tourism has been very high, and responsible hospitality and tourism operators and innovative entrepreneurs have reaped the benefits of this increased demand,” said Lipford, who developed a course on cannabis tourism that will debut this fall at GVSU. “In Oregon, on the other hand, we have not seen as much of a boost due to some issues with less regulation of licensing and surplus product being destroyed due to a lack of demand.”
Research commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office found that about 25 percent of visitors between 2013 and 2018 cited legal cannabis as a contributing factor in their decision to visit the state. As well, the Colorado Department of Revenue in August 2018 estimated the state attracted 6.5 million cannabis tourists in 2016, the most recent year for which figures were available, and projected 6 percent year-over-year growth.
The cannabis tourism industry in Colorado has been bolstered by specialized tour operators who book marijuana-friendly vacations, private tours and lodging. Websites such as ColoradoHighLifeTours.com and My420Tours.com help vacationers plan all-inclusive cannabis vacations, including sightseeing, cooking classes, grow tours, food tours and ziplining adventures. They also help travelers to vet cannabis-friendly lodging.
Although long-term licensing requirements remain up in the air, Michigan has already welcomed several cannabis events this year. That includes 420 Canna Expo at Soaring Eagle Casino Resort, Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, and Kushstock Festival Michigan in Clio. Another pot-friendly event, Camp Kushtock, is scheduled for Aug. 24-25 at Luzerne Express Campgrounds in Oscoda County and features music and art demonstrations, overnight camping, and ATV, horse, boat and tube rentals.
Other recreational events are cropping up online, mainly on the east side of the state, including marijuana-friendly concerts, “Puff and Paint” events and special cannabis dinners. In another example, the Elevated Yogi studio near downtown Detroit allows yoga participants to bring their own cannabis and partake in a smoke session before each class.
Christine Currie, who moved to Michigan from California a few years ago, also advertises Art Farm Fennville on the Bud & Breakfast website. She has a “cute little cabin” and a 1965 vintage Airstream that are mostly booked through October.
Besides overnight accommodations where guests can imbibe, Currie hosts private events, writing retreats, summer art classes through Art du Jour and private farm-to-fork cannabis dinners. Currie isn’t worried about licensing as much as making sure private events such as weddings are adult-centric and childfree. Her neighbors are wineries and cideries, and she hopes to see the stigma around cannabis dissipate as the state welcomes recreational use.
“I’m offering people a safe place to use it and consume it in a responsible manner, and they are consenting adults,” she said. “I embrace that.”
Art Farm Fennville draws artists, musicians and people from larger cities who are looking for places to relax and enjoy cannabis in a private setting. Coming from California, which has an established edible and beverage market, Currie enjoys hosting workshops that educate people on different ways to consume cannabis, or how to make a tincture or balm, or learn about different strains and their mood-enhancing benefits.
Currie, a former chef, equates the Michigan cannabis sector to the early days of the fine wine industry in California.
“Having it integrated into the food and beverage world is kind of the natural course,” she said. “I do see the stigma lifting. Most of the events I do are not locals; they are people coming in for holiday from Chicago and Detroit.”
MiBiz Editor Joe Boomgaard contributed to this report.
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