Legalized recreational marijuana has drawn attention—and tourists—to the West Coast, but it may take a while before Denver and Seattle become America’s answer to Amsterdam.

The exact details of the story are hazy, but it goes something like this: Last April, a certain über-famous hip-hop artist (better known these days for his prodigious pot habit than for his ability to rock a mic) was checking in to a Denver hotel prior to taking the stage for a concert on 4/20, the day the Mile High City’s stoners celebrate cannabis. This would be no ordinary pot party, though; thanks to voters’ approval of Amendment 64 in November 2012, the recreational consumption of marijuana was legal.

As the rapper waited outside, a member of his entourage strode to the check-in desk and got straight to the point. “What’s the fine for smoking pot?” he asked matter of factly, as if inquiring about wake-up call service. When informed that in-room toking would set him back $250, the rapper’s crew member thought for a second and replied while peeling off $100 bills, “Well, we’ve got 10 rooms, so here’s $2,500.” Absurd as the scene may sound, it’s indicative of the contradiction within the fledgling marijuana tourism industries of both Colorado and Washington state: Out-of-town smokers are more than welcome to come celebrate the early days of legalization, but unless they factored some not-insignificant fines into their travel budget, they won’t be partying by packing a bowl.

In other words, neither Denver nor Seattle has exactly become America’s answer to Amsterdam—at least not yet. While recreational drugs are still technically illegal in the Netherlands, for some 30 years the local authorities have essentially looked the other way when it comes to the possession of less than five grams of pot. Within that environment of tolerance, a cottage industry of so-called “coffee shops” has sprung up, allowing anyone over 18, including the nearly 5 million tourists who visit Amsterdam each year, to light up without drawing heat. Last year the Netherlands government flirted with the idea of restricting possession to Dutch citizens, but backed down after coffee shop owners protested the change that had the potential to kneecap their business.

The laws in Colorado and Washington are at once more concrete and more loopy. Since late 2012, it’s been legal for residents ages 21 and up to possess as much as an ounce of pot in either state; non-Colorado residents may only have a quarter ounce, while Washington makes no distinction between residents and visitors. Licensed retail shops opened earlier this year in both states, and yet, paradoxically, smoking pot anywhere open to the public is off limits. So travelers can forget about taking bong rips in their hotel room, blazing up in a bar, or rolling a joint while strolling through a national forest.

It’s for that reason that Dave Blanford, vice president of communications for Visit Seattle, waves off the idea that legalization has opened the gates to hordes of tourists who just want to get high. A record 18.6 million people visited the Emerald City in 2013, but he says it’s unlikely that many of them came for the cannabis. “Because of the legal ambiguity surrounding marijuana, it just doesn’t stand to reason that it would be a major part of tourism growth yet,” Blanford says. “In the future it’s certainly possible.” Rich Grant, communications director for Visit Denver, agrees. “In no way do we deny that people are coming here to buy marijuana,” he says. “But how many people are coming here for that reason alone? We don’t know. Nobody knows.” Of course, he says that while pointing out that Denver tourists spent a record $4.1 billion in 2013.

Grant attributes that increase almost exclusively to an exceptional snow season and the Denver Broncos’ 2013 Super Bowl run. But Jeremy Bamford, the editor of coloradopotguide.com, says those numbers don’t tell the whole story. “For example, over the 4/20 holiday here, Visit Denver looked at all of the major hotels’ occupancy rates in downtown Denver, and they weren’t really a whole lot different from any other weekend,” Bamford says. “But the reality is, people who came out for those events were looking for cannabis-friendly accommodations. So you’re not going to get a huge bump at the Marriott or all of the national hotels downtown.”

Neither Denver nor Seattle has exactly become America’s answer to
Amsterdam—at least not yet.

Bamford’s site receives five to six thousand unique visitors a day, and many of them come to check out the listings for those cannabis-friendly accommodations—which, if marijuana tourism really is to take off in Colorado, will have to be the spark. Take, for example, the Adagio Bed and Breakfast. Situated in the Wyman Historic District, the 122-year-old two-story Victorian house has operated as a BB for 12 years, but this April was rebranded as the Bud Breakfast at the Adagio to specifically target recreational tokers and patients alike. As a private enterprise, it’s free to set its own consumption policies on the premises, such as providing a “wake-and-bake” cannabis sampler and a cannabis, cookies, and milk service at night.

Smoking from anything but a vaporizer is discouraged in the Adagio’s four rooms and two suites, which are named after famous composers like Handel, Brahms, and Vivaldi and cost from $299 to $399 per night. But in the dining room, the patio, and other common areas? Everything is fair game. Watching guests embrace that freedom has been one of Zak Pine’s favorite experiences since taking over as the vice president of operations this spring. “When they come in the front door they’re kind of a deer in the headlights and don’t fully understand that they can go sit down and pack up a bowl and smoke it and enjoy it and engulf themselves in this culture,” Pine says. “But by the middle of their stay, they feel it, they understand it, they get it. It makes sense to them that we should have the same opportunities and rights with [marijuana] as we do with alcohol.”

If the idea of traveling across the country just to hole up inside and get high doesn’t appeal to you, though, a handful of enterprising startups in both states have begun offering all-inclusive pot tours. Among them is the CannaBus, a 30-foot “mobile lounge” (decked out in green benches and pillows, naturally) that for $50 will roll you up to a pot shop and then take you on a sightseeing tour while you enjoy your purchase. Kush Tourism, which launched in February, also helps weed enthusiasts hit the high points of Seattle’s cannabis culture, but it takes its mission a little more seriously. For $150 curious travelers learn about I-502, the citizen initiative that set legalization in motion; tour a glass-blowing studio; and even get to cut to the front of the queue at the area’s first and only retail pot shop, Cannabis City, where lines typically spill out the front door and around the building. (Although possession became legal in Seattle in late 2012, retail establishments didn’t begin opening until this summer. And product has been scarce so far.)

Lest you think this is all about getting buzzed, though, Kush founder Michael Gordon is quick to point out that education is his goal. “Once you’re introduced to these entrepreneurs and people who are literally creating the future of this entire industry—especially in an intimate, personal experience—we’re able to eliminate the public stigma” that clouds marijuana, Gordon says. “This is the first time we’ve seen this in our country, and there’s an energy there.”

Ric Nicholson is well aware of that energy, and he’s working to capitalize on it. Nicholson is the director of sales and marketing for the Warwick Hotel, an upscale high-rise in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, just north of downtown. He’s partnered with Kush since February to offer a 10 percent discount to guests who book through the tour group. Like every other hotel, smoking of any kind is strictly prohibited in Warwick rooms and that will never change. But Nicholson also sees the value in, if not catering directly to tourists looking for the ultimate marijuana vacation, making their stay an enjoyable one. Walking the line between welcoming the cannabis community and becoming known as “a pot hotel” is delicate business, though, and he chooses his words carefully. “I’d like to be on the leading edge of a burgeoning enterprise that can provide exposure and increase profits for my property,” he says.

Which is to say that he understands that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.