PENDLETON — The parking lot at Kind Leaf in Pendleton started to fill Sunday morning after the big music festival. Most of the vehicles displayed Idaho license plates — travelers stopping at one of Pendleton’s three marijuana stores before leaving town.
Jake, his wife and their close friends drove from Idaho to take in their first Pendleton Whisky Music Fest (the East Oregonian did not include his last name due to concerns because marijuana is not legal in Idaho). They love to sightsee and travel, he said, and they stayed at a hotel in Hermiston and dined out. He said he has been to several marijuana stores in Oregon and liked what he found at Kind Leaf.
“This is by far the most organized one, in my opinion,” Jake said. “A lot more professional, I have to say, compared to the other ones I’ve been to on the coast.”
That’s the kind of praise Kind Leaf owner Brandon Krenzler aims to achieve. The store has 300 to 500 customers a day, he said, and 70% — roughly 100,000 customers a year — are from out of the area. Those numbers spiked with the festival.
“We saw double the number of people we see in a normal Friday,” he said. “That was the best Whisky Fest Friday we’ve seen.”
Kind Leaf’s claim to fame is its stock of variety — 160 strains of marijuana and close to 3,000 cannabis products in the store. Staffers said as many as 25 customers shopped at any given time on the Saturday of the festival, with 10 or more waiting to pass through the door to the interior. The store sold 284 marijuana cartridges for vaporizer pens, a large amount for any day, and so many “pre-rolls” — joints — they could not count them all Saturday night. Krenzler added he had no doubt the two marijuana stores in town also experienced an uptick with the festival.
Staff at Pendleton Cannabis estimated 35% of its customers are people from outside Pendleton. The business had a boost during the music fest but also benefits year-round from its location on Southgate/Highway 395 near the Interstate 84 interchange at milepost 209.
Kristen Dollarhide is the tourism and hospitality coordinator for Travel Pendleton, the tourism arm of the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce (Kind Leaf, Pendleton Cannabis and the East Oregonian are chamber members). She said she would not be surprised if Krenzler’s 100,000 visitors was correct.
“There is a piece of touring that does belong to marijuana,” she said.
People come from Idaho to visit Pendleton’s dispensaries, she said, and the local stores likely draw residents from neighboring Union County, while Huntington’s successful marijuana store pulls in people from Baker County and the like. She also said the “Oregon 2017 Regional Visitor Report Eastern Region” from the travel industry research firm Longwoods International included marijuana tourism for the first time (voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014), and placed it under the list of “activities of special interest.”
Oregon’s eastern region totaled 2.5 million overnight trips, according to the report. About 5% of those were for business, 42% to visit friends or family, and 53%, or 1.3 million, were marketable trips, that is, leisure trips. And 42% of those trips visited historic places, topping the special interest list. But 7% of the trips included marijuana tourism. That was higher than agritourism (6%), traveling with grandchildren (6%) and going to weddings (5%).
Visitors on marketable trips spent an average of $95 a day, including $39 for lodging, $20 for food and $10 for recreation, sightseeing and entertainment.
Dollarhide said a couple of people at trade shows have asked about cannabis tours, but that’s not on her radar. Such tours could happen in bigger cities with legal pot, she said, but Eastern Oregon’s open spaces provide a problem because no one wants people driving high.
Krenzler is trying to bring in more tourists. Kind Leaf put up an advertising billboard along Interstate 84 west of Baker City urging travelers to come to Pendleton and a second billboard near I-83 exit 213 welcoming them to town. Krenzler said the goal is to grow tourism beyond relying on the annual Pendleton Round-Up to buoy the local economy, and marijuana is one more draw to the area.
“Instead of surviving on one week of tourism a year,” he said, “we’re helping with year-long tourism.”