Beerspectives: Reefer Madness Version Beer.0

craft beer legal pot coexist

The hophead need not fear the pothead.

I read a great post this week called, “You Are Part of the Problem.” The short version was that if you’re going to be a little self-reflective sometimes you have to see things as your fault. In this case, the frustrating assertion that beer writ large is losing market share to pot. This foolishness keeps getting published because mooks like me like me keep repeating it as part of refuting it. I’m part of the problem because I can’t think of a better way to address it. Or because I’m too lazy to think of a more creative way of dismantling it, which is completely possible.

What I want to say is that it takes three seconds to dismiss “Pot is killing beer” stories, but they keep getting published. The best way I can retaliate is assume that you have seen these stories before and not link to them, that’s where dumb, poorly researched assertions get legs. They tend to go like this: Beer sales are down in states where pot is legal; therefore, legalized pot is taking sales away from beer. Q.E.D. Besides being a terrible syllogism, that literally is where the research stops.

The shortest response I have goes like this: “Beer Sales” have been declining for years, if by sales you mean volume. One tastier, more expensive, higher alcohol beer replaces two Coors Lights. People spend more money on less craft beer, switching from (say) Coors Light to New Belgium. Volume drops translates to “beer sales are down.” That is incident number one.

Marijuana is legalized for medicinal use in several states and added for recreational use in others. People stop buying pot in their shady neighbor’s garage and start buying it at shops and dispensaries, or they grow it from seeds available on ILGM and other sites. Tax is collected and revenue and volumes are noted. That is incident number two.

The fact that these both happened are co-incidences, but the only evidence that it even might be causal is the fact that loudmouths like me keep arguing about whether or not it is. In fact, it will take another generation or so to see if people start choosing marijuana to the exclusion of craft beer because we haven’t had a generation yet that could make that choice. Right now we’re barely able to see enough companies provide dispensaries with things like cannabis insurance, for goodness sake. Plus, until now, it has been uncommon for people to smoke or drink beer, one to the complete exclusion of the other.

I try to lay off the super stoner references as much as I try to lay off the Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry criticism, but it always struck me that Bob Dylan was making an observation rather than an injunction in Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. “Everybody must get stoned,” is the only explanation for the experience of running into person after person who smokes casually or socially.

As long as I brought up Dylan, I’m gonna bring up the “squares” (with only a dash of irony added). Now, I’m nobody’s Joe Cool, but my time in the newspaper business taught me that there is no limit to the square questions people will ask where beer is concerned. Generally, these people are obsessed with the brain-cell obliterating aspect of alcohol. The squares, who tend to either own or run things, don’t live in a world where there’s nothing wrong with having a beer with lunch. It’s a leftover Puritanical thing that equates pleasure with evil.

So for the squares, here’s a little concession: The people who used to buy a Natty Light suitcase for a Friday night because they didn’t know any drug dealers probably do by a 12-Pack instead on their way home from the dispensary. Still, the number of people who like to smoke pot but actually can’t get any is phenomenally low, it’s being made tremendously easier with legal dispensaries, and also headshops such as King’s Pipe for example, that you can find smoking equipment and accessories that can actually make it much easier to combust and inhale marijuana smoke. Some people are afraid of legal consequences, sure, but those aren’t necessarily the people who also are trying to blunt their senses with a gallon of cheap beer every night.

The rest of us will be happy to take your concerns under advisement, but compare our real world experience to your paranoid interpretation of a smattering of non-contextualized fiscal data.

Drink what you like and be happy.

Addendum: Although they obviously have a little skin in the game, it has come to my attention that the Brewers Association is more or less with me on this one (except they put it way better).

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Tony Russo has been a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century. He writes for as well as several destination websites and has published two beer books for History Press. He also produces "Beer with Strangers" a weekly homebrew and beer culture podcast. Tony lives in Delmar, Maryland, with his wife and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they try and keep their dog and cat comfortable.

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