Hot Air High: Cannabis’ Rising Acceptance

It’s a brisk early morning over the Sonoran Desert, and I’m high. In a hot air balloon. I’m looking out on a 360-degree panorama: sun-baked mountains rise up from the flat desert valley in a patchwork of wild, unincorporated land that is the suburban sprawl of the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. I’m flying with an outfit called Rainbow Ryders, experts in the art of negotiating the layered winds and invisible thermals in the Valley of the Sun.

The Ascent

Ten minutes earlier we were low to the ground, skimming just above saguaro cacti and palo verde. Quail and jackrabbits scattered before us in numbers hikers nearby would never spot.

But now we’ve ascended some 2,000 feet above the valley floor, nine of us passengers in this balloon, floating no more than four miles an hour. The silence up high is stunning, broken only by an occasional voice or the whoosh of heat the pilot blasts into the balloon.

It’s calm in the gondola. Everyone is looking down over the edge of the basket, or staring long into the distance. There’s a quiet up here that lends itself to reflection, and as I scan the surrounding landscape, I begin to think about the current landscape of the cannabis industry.

High in the Sky of Legalization

The November elections significantly expanded opportunities for citizens to access both medical and recreational pot. Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada approved recreational marijuana, while Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota approved measures for medical cannabis. Now, from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to the Florida Keys, Maine’s northern hardwood forests to Hawaii’s glorious surf, Americans can legally utilize the gifts of marijuana in one form or another. Even the American territories of Guam and Puerto Rico are altering their laws on cannabis.

And it’s not just the United States. Canada is legalizing pot, and so is Israel. Dozens of nations are moving toward the normalization of cannabis, including Spain, Uruguay, Australia, Estonia, Turkey—even North Korea!

Bloomberg News reported last September that the legal cannabis industry may grow upwards of $50 billion by 2026. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense for the federal government to end the 80-year prohibition on pot. There’s so much blue sky ahead—both in this balloon operated by Rainbow Ryders, as well as the cannabis industry, that no one—politician, entrepreneur or law enforcement—should stand in the way of its legalization.

Looking around the gondola, it’s apparent that most of my fellow passengers would enjoy a world with fully legalized marijuana. Perhaps even the pilot, who did mention the lofty safety standards that Rainbow Ryders maintain, including strict adherence to sobriety among pilots and their faithful devotion to Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Of course, safety is important in our industry, as well. No one should drive under the influence, and strong standards should be set to keep cannabis, including edibles, out of the hands of children and teenagers.

After an hour of gliding the light winds over the desert, the crew brings us down—smoothly, without incident—onto a flat, pasture-like space bright with the yellow buds of wild mustard. As the ground crew deflates the multicolored rainbow balloon, we raise a glass of champagne to toast our flight with the pilot and he hands us a certificate of flight to acknowledge our “bravery.”

Rainbow Ryders

Phone: 480-299-0154 |

They offer both sunrise and sunset flights, and furnish fun airborne adventures for your group, company or vacation.