Will Legalized Weed Hurt San Diego’s Craft Beer Industry?

Beautiful young woman pouring beer into the glass. Female bartender tapping craft beer in bar.

The craft beer industry is booming in San Diego. There are currently more than 150 craft breweries in the area – with new additions likely on the horizon – and production is at an all-time high. It seems as if nothing can stop the craft beer bonanza. However, there may be a new threat in town. The legalization of marijuana in the state of California may put craft breweries at risk.

Legal Pot in California

At the beginning of 2018, California became the 5th state where adults could legally enjoy recreational marijuana without fear of criminal consequences (at the state level, at least). While some cities in California have shied away from legal weed, San Diego has embraced it. Some in the local craft beer industry have expressed concerns that the newly-legalized product would hurt craft beer sales in the region. Estimates show that legalized weed in California will rake in $3.9 billion in 2018. That amount is expected to spike by an additional $1 billion in 2019, which would exceed the expected revenue from beer in the region. Since pot is now legal, what will effect will that have on beer and beer sales?

Legal Marijuana in Other States

Bend, OR is known as “Beer Town, USA” because it is home to more craft breweries (per capita) than any other city in the state. In 2016, the state legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Since that happened, Beer Town, USA and other cities in Oregon have experienced a significant stall in growth, production, and sales. Why? There are two schools of thought.

First, people are choosing to enjoy marijuana and beer together. Consuming marijuana makes it less likely that a person will buy a second or third beer. Instead, they’ll have one beer and, thanks to the edible kicking in, go off in search of food. Second, some people are ditching beer in favor of pot, altogether. Marijuana doesn’t come with the risk of a hangover, but too much beer does. Since the consequences of smoking or consuming weed are mostly gone, the legal weed market has the ability to encroach on the market held craft breweries.

Reality of Marijuana Causing Trouble for Local Breweries

Will legalized marijuana really cause trouble for breweries in San Diego? Tom McCormick, the Executive Director of the California Craft Brewers Association, doesn’t believe it will. In an interview with BrewBound.com, McCormick explained that, because of the black market, marijuana has been readily available to anyone who wanted to buy it.

While he did admit that there was probably a small overlap in the craft beer drinker and marijuana user demographics, he doesn’t foresee “a dramatic increase in the number of craft beer drinkers who are now using cannabis or using cannabis more.”

In other words, legalization was simply a formality. Those who wanted to use the drug have had easy access on the black market for years. The new law, then, shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the craft beer industry.

Others disagree and believe that legalization of marijuana will definitely have an impact on the craft beer industry. Lauren Young, founder of California Beverage Co., explained that “this will absolutely affect the beer business in California because people have such an easy alternative now to take the edge off.” Since January 2018, Young has personally witnessed many people ditching brews for blunts. “I have a few friends doing the dry January thing, and they’re smoking weed instead of drinking. They’ve got to take the edge off somehow, right?”

Brewers Embracing Legalized Weed

According to the CEO and founder of Modern Times Beer, “if anyone can speak to the foolishness of prohibition, it’s brewers.” Instead of fearing legalized weed, brewers should embrace it. This is exactly what some breweries across the country are doing. In Colorado, Blue Moon has gone all in and started production on a non-alcoholic beer featuring THC. (Since brewers are legally prohibited from putting THC in beer, the company opted for a non-alcoholic brew.) Many other breweries offer cannabis-infused beers, but Blue Moon’s will be the first to feature the psychoactive component THC.

Other breweries seem to be contemplating a move into the cannabis market to expand exposure to new customers. Since San Diego has fully embraced legalized marijuana, it may not be long before we see a THC non-alcohol beer come out of a San Diego craft brewery.

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