Legal weed and what it means for craft beer

Weed and beer, together at last! (Legally, anyways.) iStock photo

Weed and beer, together at last! (Legally, anyways.) iStock photo

So according to our Haircut-In-Chief, legal weed will be here by next summer. It seems like kind of a formality at this point, given that pot shops are quickly becoming more ubiquitous in Vancouver than Starbucks or craft breweries. But now it will all be nice and legal and taxed, and I think we can all agree (well, most of us, anyways) that that’s a good thing.

As we enter our brave new pot-filled world, however, there will be some adjustments. In the US, there were definitely some concerns about how weed sales would impact the craft beer industry ahead of legalization in Washington and Colorado.

However, in his 2016 report on the effects of weed on the beer industry, Bart Watson, the American Brewers Association’s chief economist, noted that he didn’t “see anything definitive one way or the other so far.”

Personally, I don’t see much impact for the craft beer industry, in particular, or our country, in general.

For all intents and purposes, weed has been legal in Vancouver for years. I mean, at this point, it’s less socially acceptable to smoke cigarettes then it is to smoke weed. Sure, it’s not technically legal, but when anyone can wander into their local pot shop and pick up a dime bag of the reefer (that’s what the kids still call it, right?) and not have to worry about being arrested on the way out, then it’s safe to assume the new laws won’t change things much.

I see a lot of positives for the craft beer industry, actually. Weed beer? Sure, why not! What about a tasting/smoking room hybrid, where you can smoke a joint and down a pint? How civilized!

People are already buying weed, and illegal black-market weed is likely going to cost a lot more than readily available mass-produced legal stuff. Prohibition tends to drive up the price of the goods in question, so arguably, when weed is legal, people will have more money to spend on craft beer, right?

I talked a bunch of brewers about what they thought the impact of legal weed would be on the craft beer industry, and opinions varied from “none” to “almost none.”

“I think legalization will take a little away from sales, personally,” Evan Doan of Doan’s Craft Brewing Company told me. “Not a lot, though. And […] it has the potential of being very cooperative. The craft industry is getting more and more established with every year. People will never give up their beer, and more people are moving away from macro. So I think we will still be fine.”

One brewer noted that weed and craft beer are by no means interchangeable as recreational intoxicants, so they didn’t see the two products competing. Another beer industry insider told me there are bigger threats to craft beer sales then weed; namely, substandard craft beer.

“Yeah, if you’re making shitty beer, that’s going to hurt a lot worse,” he said.

The big picture, of course, is that legalization will have some profoundly positive benefits. Canada will now have a framework to tax weed, and in making it legal, will remove a valuable revenue stream from organized crime. Colorado took in close to $200 million in taxes on weed sales in excess of $1 billion in 2016. That’s a lot of money being diverted from criminal enterprises that can be used to build schools and hospitals.

I’ll drink to that!