Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


Reader 1

Benjamin Gillen

Reader 2

Scot Gould

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2019 Henry K Minervini


In 2014, Colorado and Washington legalized the cultivation, sale, and consumption of recreational marijuana for anyone over the age of 21. In doing so, the two states presented the first opportunities for marijuana-specific tourism in the United States. Direct benefits of legalization to these first movers, namely tax revenues generated through the sale of marijuana, have been quantified, but the indirect benefits in the tourism sector are as of yet unquantified. Although there is a large body of informal literature and popular media on marijuana tourism, academic study of the subject is scant. Working with a panel composed of 47 of the contiguous United States over the years 2005-2016, this study utilizes a synthetic control methodology to construct hypothetical time series for various tourism indicators for the cases of non-legalization in Colorado and Washington. Comparison of these hypothetical time series to the actual time series reveals the effects of legalization. A similar methodology is applied to all states to find the “placebo effects” and to establish significance. In traveler expenditures, traveler-generated taxes, tourism industry employment, and tourism industry payroll, Washington shows effects of legalization of greater magnitude and significance than those in Colorado. Only 8% of other states show an effect on tourism revenues as large as that of Washington. Additionally this study finds that each state can be approximated with a weighted average of a small group of peers and that weather, price, and an interacted migration and political orientation variable have low predictive power on tourism indicators. Lastly, this study suggests possible causes and policy implications of the discrepancy between the states.

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