Marijuana versus Alcohol: “This Bud’s (Not) For You!”

Marijuana and AlcoholIt’s long been the commonly held view that “Big Alcohol” doesn’t get along with the burgeoning marijuana industry in the U.S. The logic is that because marijuana is a substitute for alcohol its legalization will mean that it will eventually seize a good piece of the “happy hour marketshare” from the beer, wine, and spirits industry. It’s ironic because alcohol and marijuana share a similar social and historical path with each other. Like cannabis, alcohol was once criminalized and politically demonized before it found societal and legal acceptance via states’ rights and a tax and regulate model.

But all of this logic is starting to look a bit flawed based on a National Bureau of Economic Research study which showed that alcohol consumption actually has increased in those states where cannabis has been made legal. According to Fortune,

Emory University-based researchers used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2004 to 2011, looking at states that implemented some form of medical marijuana legalization over those years . . . The more surprising finding was that the availability of medical marijuana increased the number of days in which adults over 21 binge drank (defined as having more than four drinks per day) by 6-9%. It did not, however, have any effect on underage drinking.

Might these two industries find a common ground with marijuana-infused spirits? Not likely at this point.

First, with marijuana being a federally illegal controlled substance, no alcohol maker, supplier, or brewery regulated by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is going to risk making a marijuana-infused alcohol because doing so would likely cause them to lose their federal licensing. It also might put their shareholders at risk for accessary liability under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Second, even if we’re just talking about small-time, risk-loving home brewers that meet all applicable state cannabis regulations, states will want to rigorously control such marijuana-infused concoctions. Would such activity fall under a state’s liquor, beer, and wine laws? Or would the product come under the control of an agency equipped to regulate marijuana and marijuana products? Or would it come under some hybrid regulations we have yet to see? There still is considerable fear and loathing of marijuana edibles and infused products and so throwing alcohol into the mix would likely cause a state-regulatory fire storm. I am not aware of a single state with rules that would allow for licensing and distributing a THC-infused spirit, wine, or beer.

Third, public opinion is likely going to be against the mixing of drink and smoke. The question will always come up in policy debates as to whether America now wants stoned and drunk drivers on its streets. Though I’m confident that the reasonable person can handle such a concoction,there will certainly be at least one poster child who will ruin it for everyone else. We all know from years of statistics and personal anecdotes just how dangerous alcohol can be when not “handled responsibly,” so I doubt the majority of Americans will want to see a THC-infused martini mix on the shelves just yet.

So, when it comes to the “King of Bud,” we should expect alcohol and marijuana to stay in their respective industry corners for now.