On Jan. 1, the sale of an ounce of marijuana to adults over 21 for recreational purposes became legal in Colorado. First off, let me say that I did not support legalizing marijuana, and as a 25-year resident of Colorado, I am not at all pleased with what this is doing to our state's reputation.
But concerning hotels, convention centers and the rest of the meetings industry, you should see no effects -- it is still illegal to smoke marijuana in public. A local bar tried to have a "private" pot party to celebrate legalization, and the Denver Police made it very clear that even if the bar were closed to the public for a private event, the bar was still considered a public place and smoking there was illegal.
Also, in the law as written, employers have been granted the right to maintain zero-tolerance drug policies including marijuana, and they can still fire anyone who fails a drug test for marijuana if that is their policy. In other words, unless companies change their policies (and with federal regulations, I doubt they could and still maintain their licenses), you will not have to worry about your bus drivers, etc., being high on the job.
Driving while impaired is still illegal here -- no matter what causes the impairment. So, yes, people will drive while stoned, but they also drive while drunk despite laws to the contrary, so there is no additional issue there.
Even though I am not thrilled with what is going on out here, it is not the catastrophe that the news media will try to create. We don't have hordes of teenagers walking the streets puffing clouds of marijuana smoke. There are now retail stores, but I think the number right now is about 40 statewide -- considering Colorado is about 400 miles wide and almost 300 miles north to south, it means you will not see pot shops on every street corner. Hotels and places of business that are smoke-free will still be smoke-free (and Colorado is a smoke-free state, so basically no smoking is allowed indoors in any public place), and the public consumption of marijuana is still illegal.
There is one thing you might want to make clear to any attendees coming to Colorado for a meeting: It is illegal to transport any legally purchased marijuana across state lines, and that includes ports of entry such as airports. Denver International has placed signs very prominently around the facility that marijuana possession still is illegal per federal laws, and since federal agencies such as the TSA have jurisdiction at these facilities, anyone caught with marijuana at the airport can be prosecuted under federal law.
Steve Collins runs Resort Meeting Source, a full-service meeting-planning company specializing in site-selection services worldwide in both resort and non-resort destinations.