‘Bud and Breakfast?’ Desert Hot Springs spa trying to make pot tourism experience happen

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Imagine pulling up to a spa for a weekend getaway. As you check in, the person at the reception desk informs you the marijuana edible you preordered on the hotel’s app is in your room and the cannabis cooking class and cultivation facility tour you booked are scheduled for the next day.

But the spa’s not in Denver. An innkeeper and a cannabis cultivator are trying to make that experience a reality in Desert Hot Springs.

The venture between Desert Hot Springs Inn’s John Thatcher and CV Pharms principal Jason Elsasser represents one of the Coachella Valley’s first attempts at ‘canna-tourism’–a tourism industry specifically catering to people who want to incorporate cannabis into their getaway–in what has become the area’s most pot-friendly city.

The inn already offers a “4/20-friendly” environment, meaning patrons can bring their own weed and consume it on the property as well as indulging in CBD oil massages. A bevy of new items and experiences are set to debut at the inn in January, when recreational sales are brought from the street corner to the storefront in California.

An economic study released by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center earlier this year showed recreational marijuana could bring more than $5 billion to the state, part of which would come from a bump in tourism from states where adult use cannabis remains illicit.

The study referenced a survey carried out a year after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana which showed 8 percent of visitors from outside the state who were polled said they visited a recreational pot shop during their visit. Of those, 85 percent said legalized pot was one of the main factors that drove them to visit Colorado.

The Desert Hot Springs Inn was built in 1957 and for a long time was a popular writers retreat for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles to hone their craft. In recent years the spa, like many others in the city, has seen tough times.

“This is a cute little place but it does nothing in the summer,” Elsasser said.

Part of it could be the gritty stigma associated with Desert Hot Springs, which has teetered on the brink of fiscal insolvency in recent years and has been criticized by neighboring cities for its higher crime rates. Thatcher and Elsasser want to try to do something “trendy” to turn that perception around

Thatcher and Elsasser have known each other for a while and have worked together on cannabis-related business ventures in the past. About four months ago, Thatcher said he had the idea to incorporate cannabis into the inn and he went to Elsasser with the idea. As the two talked about it, the “bud and breakfast” plan started to take shape and they decided to run with it.

Both have relationships within the cannabis industry, with city officials and with the community, which they said will help the business succeed. Elsasser said their plan was strategic. They’re not fumbling around in the dark and they’re not trying to stay under the city radar and run an unregulated enterprise.

“We don’t want to be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ We want to be right in the middle of it,” Elsasser said.

The potential of the canna-toruism industry hasn’t escaped the notice of city leaders.

During a recent discussion regarding expanding the city’s medical marijuana regulations to allow for recreational marijuana use, Mayor Scott Matas said the city needed to set aside time at a future meeting to discuss cannabis tourism in depth.

An increase in tourism could lead to significant boosts in transient occupancy taxes collected by the city, as well as sales taxes. And if people are coming to buy cannabis-related products, that’s an additional layer of potential tax revenue for the city, cash-strapped in recent years, to rake in.

Council member Joe McKee said he was concerned about the survival of the city’s spas, which do well on weekends or during big festivals like Coachella, but have struggled over the summer and on weekdays.

“I’ve been here long enough, and my family’s been here long enough, that I know what the spas were like in the 70s,” he said.

McKee said the city needed to do something “marketing wise” to help the spas that still exist and he thought expansion of the recreational cannabis industry could help do that.

Thatcher said he was hoping for the same thing.

“It’s a matter of making the place a hospitality experience,” Thatcher said of the Desert Hot Springs Inn. “We want to revive the old ‘spa city’ experience.”

In recent years, the inn was marketed as a dog friendly hotel to set it apart from the crowd, but that didn’t draw in enough business. The hotel will still be dog-friendly as well as pot friendly–Thatcher said the dog crowd mixes pretty well with the marijuana crowd–and patrons could see cannabis products for dogs in the future.

The boutique hotel has nine rooms, all outfitted with dog beds, of course. Rooms can be booked individually, or as one or two-room suites with an adjoining kitchen.

The inn also boasts a pool and a spa, all heated naturally by underground springs. The hotel has two wells, one that pumps 180 degree water from 200 feet below ground to the surface and another that brings up 60 degree water. The two streams can be mixed to heat the pool to the desires of hotel patrons.

“We’re hoping the cannabis industry can get people back out to the spas,” Thatcher said.

Council members will have the chance to weigh in on the Desert Hot Springs Inn project at some point. Elsasser said he wants the hotel to be the first “municipally permitted bud and breakfast” in the city.

There’s no such thing as a bud and breakfast permit. But in order to sell marijuana products in any form, the business will need some kind of license from the city. Elsasser admitted it’s an entirely new genre of business for the city.

If all goes to plan, the inn will provide a variety of cannabis-related experiences for guests. Patrons can purchase marijuana to smoke or edibles to consume for recreational purposes on site. Smooth Transition Inc., a local non-profit educational center, will provide classes for people interested in learning about the science behind some of the products they’re using, particularly CBD products.

“A lot of people say they want CBD products, but they don’t really know what CBD is,” Elsasser said.

They can book tours of cultivation facilities or take a cannabis cooking class. And of course, if they want, guests can simply relax in their room with their recreational product of choice.

“We’re really trying to make it happen. If we didn’t do it, someone else would,” Elsasser said.

And to some extent, they already have.

Elsasser said rooms have already started to fill up thanks to a social media blitz. The inn had been contacted by a group looking to host a yoga and cannabis retreat at the property and by a local doctor who was interested in renting out rooms on weekdays for cannabis-based opioid addiction treatments.

On top of that, Elsasser and Thatcher were already talking about expanding. The two envision a party venue on the property, for pot-friendly parties and weddings, and maybe even a restaurant.

But for now, the two are focused on their core mission, to grow Desert Hot Springs’ first “bud and breakfast” into a thriving local business.

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