Last week, Alaska and Oregon joined Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational marijuana. What do these four states have in common? Robust local brewing scenes. Indeed, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado--along with California, another state likely to pass recreational marijuana--are the most active and influential brewing states in the country. Alaska may not have the influence of the big four, but it is a top-ten state in terms of breweries per capita. (DC, which also legalized weed, ranks 13th.)
That's some intriguing correlation, but does it mean anything? And more to the point from the brewing perspective--will marijuana affect beer sales?
It looks like the jury's still out--and probably will be for another year or two. Researchers looked into how medical marijuana affected beer sales, but the results were mixed. The results are made muddier because craft beer and mass market beer weren't disaggregated in the studies. This points to a larger problem with data in general--we know that a small slice of beer drinkers consume a large majority of the beer, but we don't know what kind of beer they're drinking. That pattern, known as the Pareto principle, also applies to marijuana. Until we have a better sense of who heavy users are and what they consume, it's hard to make predictions about the future.
I'll be watching two competing factors. The first is a cultural harmony or resonance between the two worlds. Beer has long used the language of ganja to describe certain aromas and flavors in hops, and the mellow, West Coast culture applies to both equally well. We've already seen Washington breweries have some fun with the new law. On the other hand, good beer and marijuana habits are expensive. Wages have been flat forever, and people have limited resources to spend on luxuries like booze and weed. Will their budgets allow them to spend lavishly on both?
Big public policy changes generally arrive with a bunch of unexpected outcomes. Legal marijuana hasn't been around long enough for us to fully assess them, but time will tell. Anyone willing to lay down a prediction?