No evidence yet that legal cannabis is replacing America’s other favorite vices

Photo: scott_craig (iStock)

There has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth among alcohol companies over legal recreational and medical marijuana. A look at Oregon’s beer sales data compiled last year—a few years after the state legalized recreational marijuana—found that the growth of packaged craft beer sales fell the same year weed was legalized. Some alcohol companies got nervous. But two new analyses from the Brewers Association and the Distilled Spirits Council both found no evidence that legal marijuana has impacted liquor or beer sales.

The Distilled Spirits Council, a trade group representing liquor producers and marketers, released its findings last week. It concluded that liquor sales haven’t been negatively affected in the three states where recreational marijuana has been legal the longest: Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. The group analyzed liquor sales data from the two years leading up to legalization and compared them to the three- or four-year period after, and found per-capita spirits sales increased between 3.6 to 7.6 percent since recreational marijuana legalization.

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“Simply put, the data show there has been no impact on spirits sales from recreational marijuana legalization,” Distilled Spirits Council chief economist David Ozgo said of the study.

Yesterday, the Brewers Association released its own similar findings. According to BA chief economist Bart Watson, there’s “no evidence that marijuana legalization (medicinal or recreational), has had a clear effect in a singular direction on beer sales.” In fact, beer shipments were slightly better in states where recreational marijuana was legal, leading Watson to conclude that there’s not much of a clear pattern between cannabis’ legal status and beer sales. His analysis gets quite detailed, examining some of the methodological difficulties that come with this type of analysis, so unless you have an advanced degree in economics, you can stick to his conclusions: “The evidence… has hopefully convinced you that cannabis isn’t cratering beer sales.”

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Of course, the effects of marijuana on beer and liquor sales aren’t set in stone. Economists are drawing data from just a handful of years in a handful of states; all of these trend lines are subject to change going forward. For now though, it doesn’t look like consumers have en masse ditched booze in favor of weed.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.