Legal Marijuana Boosts Alcohol Sales in Colorado

By May Wilkerson 09/03/15

Alcohol sales have grown steadily since weed became legal in 2012.

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This will go nicely with strawberry kush. Shutterstock

Legal marijuana might actually be good news for Big Alcohol. There is still some fear in the alcohol industry that more states legalizing marijuana could cut into booze sales. But it seems the reverse is happening, if the market in Colorado is any indication. Alcohol sales have actually steadily grown ever since the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

In the year-and-a-half since legal weed hit shelves, “we’ve just seen phenomenal growth,” said Justin Martz, who runs Mr. B’s Wine & Spirits in Denver. Despite his initial concerns, “it’s really turned out to be a non-issue,” he said, “if anything, it’s kind of helped us. A high tide lifts all boats.”

Bryan Simpson, spokesman for the craft brewery New Belgium in Fort Collins, says the legal weed industry has had “no demonstrable impact at all” on his brewery’s sales. Rather than the alcohol and pot industry competing with each other, he believes the success of one industry can boost sales in the other. “There’s definitely some crossover in the two communities of beer drinkers and herb enjoyers,” he said. “But I don’t think people are doubling down in one category or the other.”

According to tax records, alcohol sales have continued to rise in Colorado in the midst of the legal marijuana boom. But many industry groups feared that marijuana legalization would have the reverse effect, in part due to academic research predicting this trend. One study found that in many states legalization of medical marijuana led to steep decreases in alcohol consumption.

These fears have even prompted some alcohol groups to oppose weed legalization. There is a history of marijuana advocacy groups taking aim at Big Alcohol as well, often citing the argument that marijuana is “safer than alcohol” as a reason to make the plant legal.

But Big Alcohol and Big Marijuana might be better off as allies. Part of the reason weed legalization has been so good for Colorado’s alcohol industry is the rise in tourism. A record 71.3 million tourists flocked to the state in 2014, the first year weed was legal, spending a collective $18.6 billion.

Martz said the number of tourists visiting his shop has steadily risen over the past few years. He even keeps a stack of coupons to a local pot dispensary, which he gladly hands out to visitors. Even if not all tourists are visiting Colorado to get high “[l]egalization adds to the overall draw," he said.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.