Greener grass

Big Beer is anticipating the legalisation of cannabis all over the world by investing in the growing weed market.

The “coffee shop” opposite the Faculty where I studied in Maastricht…

The thinly disguised “herb shop” in my street in Bilbao…

The enterprising gentlemen who come out to the alley next to my house in London every night…

Marijuana, it seems, is never in short supply wherever I am.

Even so, I have never felt the appeal of the joint.

I stick to the writing tradition and drink the occasional drink. After all, it worked for Hemingway…

I personally won’t be trading in my beers and spirits for a marijuana cigarette.

Interestingly enough, the alcoholic beverage industry is making the switch.

Glenfiddich, the third biggest producer of Scotch whisky, recently lost its head of strategy to the weed industry.

“There’s going to be a convergence of alcohol and cannabis, and now’s the time to jump in as regulatory pressures ease,” he told Bloomberg.

And he’s not the only one to whom cannabis is beckoning.

One brewing company after another is hedging its bets and investing heavily in the growing recreational weed biz.

For them grass really is greener.

The end of Prohibition

For thirteen years the “Prohibitionists” – those who advocated for an alcohol ban in the US – had their way.

From 1920 to 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment outlawed the transport, production, and sale of alcohol.

Prohibition was to make the US a first-class, stand-up country with the best of morals. A nation of teetotallers that would set an example to the rest of the world.

In reality Americans would never renounce booze completely. They started distilling their own alcoholic drinks and gangsters grew fat off bootlegging liquor. It was the Golden Age for Al Capone and Joe Kennedy, JFK’s dad.

Despite the nasty little side-effect of creating a huge underground industry, alcohol consumption did drop over this period.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt ending the Prohibition Era predictably led to a boom in alcohol consumption.

In 1945, 12 years after the ban had been lifted, Americans were on average drinking 135% more beer than in 1933.

Prohibition for cannabis has been going on for a considerably longer period. But that era, too, may be ending soon.

The Netherlands has had a peculiar cannabis policy that amounts to “it’s not legal but we’ll look the other way” for as long as I can remember…

But in late 2013 Uruguay became the first country to actually legalise cannabis use.

Since then Canada, South Africa and a number of US states have followed Uruguay’s example, while a number of countries in South America and Europe have decriminalised it. Legalisation, there, seems a logical next step.

Even in the UK, Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed medical marijuana would become available from this autumn, though he assured recreational use would remain a no-no.

Sure. But for how much longer?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that alcohol producers are showing interest in stoners. They know how profitable the boom just after a prohibition can be.

Plus, they’re already doing business in “vices” so there can be no moral issues.

And since alcohol might have to compete with cannabis going forward, investing in the “competition” could be an effective way for them to hedge their bets.

Cannabis beer

Cannabis use is sharply rising in Europe and the US. Both in terms of “every day use” as for people who have tried it at least once.

So does that mean beer brewers are going to cultivate cannabis themselves and supply marijuana cigarettes to the masses?

Actually, they’re staying a little closer to their comfort zone. I mean they’re still brewers, not tobacco companies.

That’s why brewing giants are going to take to the cannabis market with a brand new product.

Get ready for non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages!

Constellation Brands, owner of Corona, has made the boldest bet yet.

It’s entered into a partnership with cannabis grower Canopy Growth. As part of the deal, it’s invested $4bn in the Canadian company.

Molson Coors, brewer of Coors Light, has also joined forces with a Canadian cannabis producer. It’s going to develop its cannabis-infused drinks with The Hydropothecary Corporation.

And of course the whales of the beer industry can’t stay behind. Heineken and Anheuser-Bush InBev, the two biggest beer companies in the world, are making strides in this area.

Neither of them have partnered up with big cannabis companies yet, or acquired such a company for that matter.

But Heineken has already launched Hi-Fi Hops, a beer made with cannabis instead of alcohol, through its Californian brand Lagunitas.

“It makes perfect sense for these beer companies to hurry up and claim their spot on the US cannabis market,” says Mike Adams in Forbes.

“The beverage sector alone is expected to produce $15 billion a year, according to statistics from Cannabiz Consumer Group. This is because more cannabis consumers (new and old) are looking to replace smoking with a healthier consumption method.”

After smoking joints and eating space cake, cannabis may soon be consumed in liquid form in droves.

Who knows? Now that global tolerance towards cannabis is growing, maybe cannabis will become the new alcohol.

If that’s the case, investing in this new market could turn out to be the best decision beer companies have made since the end of Prohibition.

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