On one hand, the sea change in American attitudes toward marijuana continues alongside a wave of policy changes that expand access to the drug for both medical and recreational purposes. On the other, the necessarily slower-moving scientific community looks back at previous changes to study their impacts while also looking forward to warn of potential effects of continued change. Even though a large recent study found a significant (if not huge) increase in both illicit cannabis use and use disorders in states enacting medical marijuana laws (MML) vs those that didn’t, a growing number of states and Canada rush toward even broader access.
Standing mostly on the sidelines, the alcohol beverage industry continues to wonder how legal cannabis will affect demand for various types of alcohol. So far, nothing conclusive turned up in Beer Institute economist Michael Uhrich’s analysis of beer sales in Colorado and Washington, post-legalization. While he and others consider legal weed one potential headwind for beer, as he presented at recent BI meeting, he still found more traditional factors like weather and unemployment were more likely than marijuana availability to impact beer sales at the county level. Longer-term, however, broader legalization could exacerbate existing pressures on beer prices, perhaps even more than it dampens demand and total sales volumes.
Canada a “Patchwork of Readiness” While legalization largely happens state by state in the US, Canada’s plan to allow recreational sales by this time next year will provide an additional test-case. That country has less than year to sort through wide assortment of considerations before its government’s plan to legalize recreational sales next July. Currently, marijuana industry consultant Omar Khan called Canada a “patchwork of readiness,” he told CBC News late last month. The proposed “timeline’s going to be a challenge, no doubt,” acknowledged the previous chief of staff for Ontario’s health minister and current public affairs veep at Hill + Knowlton. While noting “fairly aggressive timeline,” he demurred at questioner’s suggestion that it may be “too tight.”
Among numerous considerations Canada faces over the next year, Khan wondered not about where it will be sold, but “where will one be able to use marijuana. For example, you can walk down a public sidewalk and smoke a cigarette, but you can’t walk down the sidewalk and drink a beer,” he said. He also cited “a lot of evidence that suggests” marijuana use causes “less” harm than “regular alcohol use,” of course. At the same time, others look at the alcohol or tobacco question for other policy considerations, most notably advertising. Canadian government recommendations suggest cannabis ads may fall under stricter control, modelled after tobacco policies, expecting “no beer-like ads featuring happy Canadians consuming pot with good-looking friends,” as the Toronto Star quipped. Deputy prime minister (and former health minister) Anne McLellan sees alc bev ads as “a failure in public health terms,” the Star paraphrased. However, pot industry members would clearly prefer greater freedom for branding and packaging than afforded tobacco, especially “since pot isn’t as dangerous to one’s health as tobacco,” the paper wrote. “In-store advertising,” not allowed in public spaces, may be a compromise.