The Jupiter’s Katie Watkins Talks Cannabis Tourism

This Portland boutique hotel is more than 420 friendly.

By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer

Portland’s image as a mecca for alternative culture set in long before Oregon’s legalization of cannabis in 2015. Legal weed certainly didn’t hurt, though. Savvy local businesses like The Jupiter hotel chain are now incorporating recreational pot into their selling of a modern bohemian dream.

The original Jupiter hotel opened in 2004, renovated a run down motor lodge from the 1960s as an emblem of the transformative effect the city’s arts scene was having on its neighborhoods. They opened the Jupiter NEXT last year as it’s upscale sibling, reflecting their now slightly older, more professional creative clientele at a later point in their life. The opportunity to brand themselves as the local ambassador to weed tourists was a natural step. At all stages, their customers were likely to partake in some quality pot.

The Jupiter’s Community Manager, Katie Watkins, is responsible for bringing the players from Portland’s cannabis industry into the hotel, with hope that cannabis-curious patrons might follow. The Hotel has forged a relationship with local chocolatiers, Grön, to put CBD chocolates on every pillow at NEXT, and spike their in-house cafe’s morning lattes and evening cocktails with it on request. She’s worked with nearby dispensary Jayne to curate the hotel’s “420 Package,” a bouquet of grinders, papers, vape pens, and themed magazines meant to welcome Portland weed tourists (without actually selling them any weed). They’ve got other offerings meant to highlight hipster staples like craft beer or custom tattoos, but weed is outpacing them all. “We sell more of the cannabis package than any other,” says Watkins.

Beyond a few tie-in sales opportunities, The Jupiter has sought to position themselves as local experts, in and of the Portland cannabis community. Staff members have become weed concierges, as comfortable directing visitors to dozens of nearby dispensaries as they would be recommending the hottest brunch. And for those too bashful to ask, they’ve created “Roxy” a sort of hip in-room Alexa, who fields all pot questions via in-room touchscreen. “You can just say, ‘Hey Roxy, show me the nearest dispensary’ and it’ll pop up on a map on the screen in your room,” Watkins notes.

We talked to Watkins about The Jupiter’s success embracing cannabis tourism in a hospitality industry that still seems chilly to the idea, the awkward grey area in which any “public” business is still forced to navigate, and the exciting possibilities of a future where that kind of hedging isn’t needed.

What was the origin of The Jupiter’s cannabis package?

There’s been a lot of push back in the hospitality sector really embracing cannabis tourism in general. We were offering other packages. I think that we are kind of pioneers. We have a sort of fantasy kit, and [craft] beer packages, and things like that that feel really “Portland” and employ a lot of our local partners.

The weed package in particular came out of 2015, when weed was legalized in Oregon. We still can’t put actual cannabis in the packages. We call it our “Everything but the Weed” kit. If you’ve never smoked weed before, if you’ve never eaten an edible before, you might have the bits and pieces in front of you to feel less nervous about jumping in. We were coming at it from more of an educational angle.

Did you decide that interest in cannabis was a natural fit to the customer base you were already catering to? Or did you add a cannabis package to bring in new customers?

A little bit of both, though definitely leaning towards “that’s already our crowd.” Historically, Jupiter’s been known as the rock n’ roll place. I think that we have a crowd who are more adventurous and engaged with the community, and want to be more engaged wherever they are traveling.

Have you seen other folks in Portland hospitality following suit to actively embrace weed tourism? Or is there still a lot of reluctance?

I think the attitude is changing rapidly, but I think that we are still the only ones in Portland, and generally greater Oregon, that are really embracing cannabis tourism. It’s so interesting because there’s a dispensary on every corner. It’s definitely part of the culture here, it always has been.

How much of a boost do you think the Portland hospitality industry would get if something like weed courtyards or weed lounges were allowed? How much would that help your business?

That’s the dream! I think it would be great. Right now you’re not legally allowed to smoke anywhere inside a building in Oregon, but also not allowed to smoke in any public place. A hotel is considered a public place. We run into something where we can say your room is your private space and you can do whatever you want in there. You’re still not allowed to smoke, because of the Indoor Clean Air Act.

But if you’d be able to smoke cigarettes anywhere, why wouldn’t you be able to smoke cannabis anywhere? I think that it’d be beneficial to just about everybody. If you’re a person who doesn’t want to be around it, it’s the same as smoking cigarettes, you don’t have to be around it.

On the site you cite a “smoke cleaning fee” of $150 for any one who smokes in their room. The intention there is just to state the hotel’s policy upfront, not to tell weed tourists, “Pay the $150 upgrade and then go crazy smoking weed in your room”?

Totally. It’s like, don’t do it. If we find out you did, we’re going to charge you this money. but just don’t do it. (laughs)

But it is crazy. There’s this element of…”where do you smoke?” If you are coming into a town, and a hotel is considered “public,” what are you supposed to do? I’m really looking forward to when we can say that our fresh-air patios at the NEXT are available for that, or in the secret garden that we have, you can do what you want. think it’s really unfair that you can smoke cigarettes but not smoke joints. But I don’t think we’re very far away from that happening

Still, if someone wants to eat an edible before they go on a waterfall tour, or to see an indie-rock show in town that night, obviously, there’s nothing you would do to encourage or discourage them?

If you ate an edible in your room and we never found out about it, we’d never know. If someone were to come up and ask the staff, they would probably have to say “Consuming cannabis on site is not allowed, it’s illegal.” (laughs) I don’t think anyone ever asks.

Have there been any drawbacks in launching weed tourism initiatives? Has it brought any bad attention, any extra regulatory scrutiny?

I think it’s generally been positive. We are who we are, and we’ve always been who we are. So, I don’t think anyone is surprised that we are the ones who are picking up the cannabis tourists. If you are familiar with Jupiter, I think it’s almost expected.

We actually get lauded for embracing it, because it’s such a big part of the community in Portland, and also I think there’s just so many people who partake and always have. We’re not in the business of telling people how to enjoy themselves.

And “Jupiter” does sound like a weed strain, not for nothing.

I know, right? I’m not opposed! I think it’d be fun. I want to talk to Jayne about that and see what we can work out.

Photo via The Jupiter

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