Airbnb-style rentals, for those who like a good toke

From CNET Magazine: Watch out, Airbnb. The sharing economy and weed are bonding over a bowl.

Max Taves Staff Reporter
Max writes about venture capitalism and startups while seeking out the new new thing to come out of Silicon Valley. He joined CNET News from The Wall Street Journal, where he contributed stories on commercial real estate, architecture, big data and more. He's also written for LA Weekly, Slate and American Lawyer Media's The Recorder, where he covered legal battles in Silicon Valley. Max holds degrees from Georgetown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Max Taves
5 min read

This story from the spring 2016 issue of CNET Magazine originally ran online on May 29, 2016. It's been updated slightly with some current figures. We thought our readers would enjoy it for this year's "420" celebrations.

Deborah Button doesn't want to be late for the "stoner Bible study" group she founded seven months earlier, where people consume marijuana before immersing themselves in that week's topic. Still, she takes the time to explain to me the appeal of the bed-and-breakfast she owns 8 miles outside of Denver.

"We have bongs, vape pens, vapes -- all the [marijuana] accoutrements that you could dream of," says Button. "Sometimes, we'll [put] out 50 rolled joints. It's like a candy shop in the house."

A self-described conservative soccer mom, Button voted against two statewide bills to permit marijuana use in Colorado before it became legal for adults in 2014. That's also about the time Button started meeting tourists with multiple sclerosis, lupus and other chronic conditions who came to Colorado to relieve their symptoms with pot.

Those encounters made Button more compassionate -- and entrepreneurial. The former high school teacher is now a full-time B&B hostess welcoming tourists to her five-bedroom, four-bathroom house to smoke from her bongs, roll joints on her deck, eat her cannabis-infused mashed potatoes and ogle her marijuana plants.

"That's a big draw for visitors. They like to watch the cannabis grow. We have plants at every stage -- clones, teenagers, we got 'em all," she says. "They usually tell me, 'I want to see the babies!'"

Enlarge Image

Traci Bartlow, who lists her Oakland, California, house on BudandBreakfast.com, hopes to take part in the growing business of marijuana tourism.

James Martin/CNET

Button is tight-lipped about exactly how many "babies" she's got. Her guests used to find her suburban retreat di bud through Airbnb, the global website that's turned people's home, room and couch rentals into a $25 billion business. These days, though, most of her guests find her through a startup's smaller site, the aptly dubbed BudandBreakfast.com.

Popularized by startups like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, the sharing economy has officially gone to pot as Internet entrepreneurs set up B&Bs to tap into the rapidly expanding legal marijuana market. It's now easy to light up a J in someone's rustic cabin in Idaho Springs or 7-acre estate in Steamboat Springs (both in Colorado), or a private villa in Jamaica.

Budding business

Over the past two decades, 28 states have approved pot for medicinal use. Eight states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Massachusetts, Nevada and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational reefer, allowing any adult to smoke cannabis just for the fun of it. There's a lot of green in all this legal grass.

One study estimates Americans will spend $4.8 billion buying pot in the states where it's legal. And that doesn't even include the businesses that surround it -- such as on-demand delivery services, paraphernalia-of-the-month clubs and marijuana tourism. The states where marijuana is legal for any purpose whatsoever are seeing a boom -- though Colorado might have the biggest claim to being weed country. In 2014, when the Rocky Mountain state made recreational weed legal, Colorado saw more tourists (spending more money) than at any time in its history.

Marijuana-friendly hotels in the state are jam-packed, says Jeremy Bamford, founder of PotGuide.com, in Denver. People's private homes are helping to "pick up the slack," he says.

That demand also makes these Airbnbs of weed the go-to sources for traveling stoners. Peruse TravelTHC, for example, and you'll find a wide range of digs in Colorado and Washington, from a 4,000-square-foot home in Black Hawk, Colorado, that goes for $368 a night to a 19th-century Victorian home in Manitou Springs for $375.

And then there's BudandBreakfast.com. Its name pretty much says it all. By late 2015, the site had about 300 weed-friendly homes, primarily in Colorado, but also in places like Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines and, of course, Jamaica.

"We have everything from a couch to a castle," says founder and CEO Sean Roby, fresh from visiting homes in Jamaica. "Some listings are $3,000 a night."

Rocky Mountain high

Colorado is far and away BudandBreakfast's most popular destination, and Roby says the hosts who do the best are the ones who go all out -- that is, provide the full bed-and-breakfast experience, but with weed. (Button, it should be noted, is one of the busier hosts.)

"We have [hosts] who will have a smoking room or vaporizers, [and] full-blown bud and breakfasts [serving] marijuana-infused hollandaise sauce," says Roby, adding that visitors from states where weed is still verboten are pretty blown away by it all. "They're shocked that we exist, and we're shocked that they're shocked."

While California's medical marijuana market might be America's biggest for legal cannabis, its bud hosts and hostesses aren't nearly as active as those in Colorado.

Traci Bartlow started listing her Oakland home on BudandBreakfast in 2105. There are five bedrooms, which go for about $60 a night and tend toward the austere side. And her backyard is a tad funky, with its tarp, less-than-vibrant plants and psychedelic mural on one yard-facing wall.


See more from CNET Magazine.

Mark Mann

"I've gotten requests for bookings through BudandBreakfast but haven't had a single booking through them," says Bartlow, who's still optimistic she'll get guests through the site. "It's just a matter of time." (Editor's note, California legalized recreational pot in November, so things may have picked up.)

That's not too surprising, says Roby. Travelers are still wary of visiting states where weed is not yet fully legal for adults. "When a state goes legal, our phones go ringing."

House rules

Both TravelTHC and Roby's site give property owners a chance to specify what's allowed in their homes and what's not.

"I make the rules for what you can do in my house very clear," explains Vivienne Palmer, who lists her $200-a-night Boulder penthouse on BudandBreakfast. "My biggest concerns are fire danger ... No joints, no bongs, anything that you have to hold a flame to, including candles and incense."

Her rules don't seem to bother guests. Palmer's penthouse is almost always booked.

That same tourism boom keeps Button's business busy, too. The stoner hostess and Bible group organizer is in expansion mode, with a plan to open a marijuana-friendly campground east of Denver.

"There's nothing out there, but it's nice," she says. "We'll have lots of fun activities."

Max Taves (@maxtaves) is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has inhaled.

For other CNET Magazine stories, click here.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.