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Suds vs. Bud 

How the beer and spirits market has implications for weed sales and legalization

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While the debate over medical marijuana continues and the potential of retrograde policies being reinstated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions persists, there is an understated cannabis battle being waged as more states decriminalize and legalize.

Beer companies have begun to see the writing on the wall as cannabis use begins to be normalized in legal states. Research firm Cowen and Company released their findings last year that in Washington, Colorado and Oregon, beer sales took a noticeable dip, below national sale averages.

The dip in sales follows a trend of decreasing millennial drinkers, who are more inclined to indulge in pot, wine or spirits than in beer. Earlier this year, the Cannabiz Consumer Group reported that 27 percent of beer drinkers said they have substituted marijuana for beer, or would if it were legal in their state.

And you can count the former chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch as the latest investor in the potential end of cannabis prohibition. Chris Burggraeve joined the advisory board of greenRush.com, a tech startup that hopes to be the Amazon of weed. He is also a cofounder of Toast, a pre-roll joint company. Burggraeve views pot as the next microbrew.

"This is one of the fastest-growing categories globally," Burggraeve told Bloomberg. "When consumers want something, you ignore it at your peril."

greenRush.com hopes to make major investments and stakes into the market before corporate juggernauts like Amazon enter the fray. Burggraeve is the latest to make the switch, as last month saw Constellation Brands, the U.S. marketer for Corona, take a 9.9 percent stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian marijuana company.

Some beer distribution companies are not looking to make the switch, but instead wage war. Both the Beer Distributors PAC of Massachusetts and the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association donated to the anti-legalization efforts of their respective states.

Massachusetts' Beer Distributors PAC gave $25,000 to the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, the third largest contribution to the anti-pot group. And the Boston Beer Company (owners of Sam Adams) told investors that marijuana legalization had the potential to "adversely impact the demand" for their product.

So while we wait to see how the United States' relationship with pot develops, the economic relationships of capitalist venture and market competition may take the front seat as legalization and implementation proceeds. ♦

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