.Booze and Buds

Alcohol and cannabis relations

In the lead-up to the legalization of weed, the liquor business generally sided with the prohibitionists. In 2011, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors donated to the effort to oppose the first—failed—voter initiative to legalize weed in California. In 2016, similar groups opposed legalization efforts in states like Arizona and Massachusetts, as well as California.

Right around that same time, big liquor and beer companies warned investors that the burgeoning legal-pot industry might pose a threat. This approach might appear to make sense: pot and booze seem like they’re natural competitors. But, of course, that’s not really true—lots of people use both at the same time.

As the years passed and it became more obvious that legal pot wasn’t hurting liquor sales, the booze industry began tempering its messages. It began going beyond simply accepting the situation by asking, “how can we get in on this?”

Some beer and liquor companies are introducing cannabis-infused beverages, or are acquiring makers of them. Just last month, cannabis giant Tilray expanded its beer portfolio by purchasing eight “craft” beer brands from Anheuser-Busch, including well-known names like Redhook and Widmer Brothers.

NORML, the leading advocate for legal weed, issued a warning in 2021. Liquor, tobacco and other industries now lobbying on cannabis issues “have pushed for statewide limits on the number of licensed cannabis producers and retailers, in an effort to keep prices and supply artificially limited,” NORML pointed out. The organization believes in “the right to personal cultivation and mandates low barriers of entry to the cannabis market so that every American who wishes to benefit from legalization can do so.”

Last month, the law firm Feuerstein Kutrick warned that the highly concentrated liquor business might want to pattern the cannabis industry after itself. “At a minimum,” it noted, “a shift towards a regulatory structure that more closely resembles the alcohol industry would change the paradigm for a cannabis industry that has developed in a decentralized manner (out of necessity) over the past several decades.”

The question now is: is the cannabis industry willing to play along with Big Booze?

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