A few months after California legalized recreational use of marijuana, the Desert Hot Springs Inn in the Coachella Valley began advertising itself as cannabis friendly — a place where guests can smoke by the pool or heat up a vaporizer in the rooms.
What surprised innkeeper John Thatcher was not only that business improved by as much as 50 percent but that most of his pot-smoking guests were upper-income baby boomers.
“It was not your basement stoner crowd,” he said.
Like the rest of California, the hospitality industry in the state has moved slowly and tentatively to embrace the use of cannabis on a widespread basis. Desert Hot Springs Inn is one of only a handful of hotels in the Golden State to openly welcome smoking, vaping and otherwise enjoying pot on their properties.
Cannabis advocates and some hotel industry experts say that it is only a matter of time before vaping rooms and pot-smoking patios become as much a part of hotels as fully stocked mini fridges and cocktail bars.
“We are seeing more of it with independent hotels embracing it,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, chief executive of the California Hotel and Lodging Assn. “It’s not going away.”
He said the trade group has been getting an increasing number of calls from hotel operators in California asking the same question: What do we tell hotel guests when they ask for a recommendation for a nearby cannabis dispensary?
The group has yet to decide how its members should handle such a request, Mohrfeld said.
“I think there is an interest in this,” he said. “We should get on it sooner rather than later.”
There is definite interest from Max Groso, a Miami landlord who said he has visited the Desert Hot Springs Inn twice in the past few months on business trips.
“I love that I don’t have to worry when I smoke, and I go into that little area in the back,” he said of a patio area at the inn. “It’s very relaxing especially in the evening as the sun is going down.”
Groso said he looks forward to the day when cannabis will be as accepted at hotels as coffee, tea and wine.
“It may take a while,” he said.
In California, 57 percent of voters approved Proposition 64 last year, requiring the state to begin issuing licenses to sell recreational pot starting Jan. 1.
Smoking marijuana is prohibited anywhere conventional cigarettes are banned. The state prohibits smoking of any kind in bars, restaurants and other public places; some local laws are even tougher.
Although small independent hotels like the Desert Hot Springs Inn are more likely to accept marijuana smokers, the big chain hotels remain resistant to the idea, industry experts said.
The primary reason for the hesitancy is the fear that pot-friendly hotels will scare away guests with children in tow or business travelers who are paying with a corporate expense account.
Some experts say cannabis smoke will create a cost burden because it will force the owners of cannabis-friendly hotels to pay to clean the smoke residue from curtains and bedsheets.
“I think you are talking about a real niche kind of thing,” said Carl Winston, director of the school of hospitality and tourism management at San Diego State University. “I can’t imagine it on a large-scale basis.”
He added that a global hotel chain that allows cannabis use in California would probably develop a pot-friendly reputation that might hurt business at the hotels it operates in countries where marijuana is illegal.
“The downside is singularly larger than the upside,” Winston said.
Don’t tell that to those hotels that have dubbed themselves cannabis friendly. They say occupancy rates have shot up since they put out the word that guests can light up without fear of condemnation.
At the Hicksville Pines Bud and Breakfast in Idyllwild, business has picked up about 30 percent since its owner Morgan Night converted the quirky 10-room lodge earlier this year into a cannabis-centric property that features a room adorned with blacklight posters and a snack-filled vending machine.
“The vending machine loves it because it gets raided frequently,” he said. “Overall it’s been great.”
Night also operates the Hicksville Trailer Palace and Artist Retreat in Joshua Tree — a motel that houses guests in trailers with names like “The Fi Fi” and “The Pony.” Instead of finding a mint on the pillows, guests of the palace are likely to find a small pot sample.
“People like free stuff,” he said, noting that it is now legal in the state to give an adult over 21 up to an ounce of pot as a gift.
Night said he isn’t done yet with his burgeoning pot empire. He hopes to one day get a permit to build a cannabis dispensary and a cafe near his Idyllwild property.
So far, only a handful of motels in California openly advertise themselves as accepting cannabis smokers.
But marijuana advocates say many hotels and inns are quietly letting it be known in pot-smoking circles that they tolerate smoking on their properties.
“They don’t want to be recognized openly,” said Mike Eymer, chief executive and founder of Colorado Cannabis Tours, which list cannabis-friendly hotels in Denver, California and Las Vegas. “They want discreet bookings.”
Among Eymer’s list of cannabis-friendly hotels in Los Angeles is a property that is described only as a “420 Friendly Boutique Hotel in West Hollywood.” (The “420” reference is a widely accepted code for marijuana.) The photos on the page seem to identify the property as the Moment Hotel on Sunset Boulevard.
Dan Brannan, the general manager of the 39-room Moment Hotel, said his property allows smoking — of cigarettes, cigars, pipes and cannabis — on the 2,000-square-foot rooftop lounge but not in any of the rooms or indoor common areas where non-smokers and children might be exposed.
“What sometimes happens is people are saying I’m pot friendly, but I’m not really pot friendly,” he said, adding that a better description is “pot tolerant.”
Brannan said marijuana smokers tend to be pretty mellow customers.
“Pot smokers are not out there being screamers,” he said. “I’d rather have pot smokers than alcoholics and drunks.”
At the Desert Hot Springs Inn, Thatcher has visions of expanding his tiny nine-room hotel to become a mini pot resort.
The hotel already offers a pool filled with mineral water — set at 85 degrees — and hot tub — set at 105 degrees. Plus he has a massage room, where guests can get a rubdown with a cannabis extract oil. The guests typically smoke around a fire pit and a shaded patio that looks out onto the San Jacinto Mountains, but they are also allowed to heat up a vaporizer in their rooms.
The hotel sits on nine acres of land, with a large section that remains undeveloped. Thatcher has notions of one day adding an upscale restaurant or a “bud bar” where guests can buy cannabis. For now, he directs his guests, who hail from as far away as Chicago and Miami, to a pot dispensary down the road.
“It’s a big thing for them to come here and have the stigma of smoking be gone,” Thatcher said. “I haven’t had a problem renting out rooms.”