A buddy I’ve known since high school (who, for the purpose of this story, I’ll call Doug) makes his living as a wine and spirits merchant in the Intermountain West and on the West Coast — and Doug claims people in the alcohol industry there are crying into their beers about cannabis legalization.
He says that most of the conversations at recent wine and spirits industry events have centered around complaints about legalized marijuana hurting alcohol sales in states like Colorado, California, Washington, Nevada and Oregon, as well as in neighboring states.
While the alcohol industry may only admit to a negligible drop of about 2–5 percent in sales due to cannabis legalization, according to the data, the real figures are much higher than that.
Earlier this year, it was reported by The Aspen Times that booze sales have decreased by as much as 15 percent in states where medical marijuana laws have been enacted.
According to the study, co-authored by Georgia State University Economics Professor Alberto Chong, in neighboring counties in prohibition states, alcohol sales had also declined by as much as 20 percent.
“This implies that rather than exacerbating the consequences of alcohol consumption — such as an increase in addiction, car accidents or disease risk — legalizing cannabis may temper them,” Chong said in a statement.
Professor Chong and his colleagues used the Nielsen Retail Scanner database to determine wine and spirits sales for 2,000 counties dating 2006–2015. The researchers then compared alcohol purchases in states that legalized marijuana to states that didn’t, both before and after the laws were implemented.
And, in Colorado resort towns like Aspen and Boulder, cannabis dispensaries and sales are outpacing alcohol sales, with purchases of marijuana to residents and tourists generating more profits and tax revenues than alcohol sales in bars.
“There’s a major change in Colorado and other legalized states,” Doug says. “When I do sales calls in Aspen and municipalities that once had a thriving alcohol market, the restaurants, bars, saloons and liquor stores are reporting that people are switching to cannabis.”
Doug also suspects that tourists to Colorado, who account for a sizable revenue stream for the state, are turning to marijuana because it doesn’t have the negative health effects of alcohol, particularly while they engage in sporty outdoor activities.
“Tourists who used to drink a few beers or mixed drinks at dinner found that it sabotages their skiing ability and stamina, and causes hangovers. But apparently cannabis makes them feel they’re performing better on the snow — and there are no hangovers,” Doug explains.
These reports are backed up by the data. Aspen municipal government officials report cannabis sales of $11.3 million last year, compared to $10.5 million brought in by alcohol, with sharp increases reported every year since the town’s first pot shop opened in 2014. Not only that, but marijuana retail is booming more than any other retail sector in Aspen.
While state-legalized recreational cannabis policy has been implemented in several states since 2015, if Professor Chong’s study had data through 2017, it’s likely that availability of recreational weed instead of only medical marijuana has resulted in an even steeper decline in alcohol sales.
Booze Industry Tries To Defeat Cannabis Legalization
The alcohol industry has long been legally allowed to advertise and market products that can be inherently harmful when used as directed, and downright fatal when consumed to excess.
According to the National Association of Wine Retailers, over the past five election cycles, alcohol wholesalers have given more than $107 million to various state political campaigns. Doug admits many of the politicians his industry has thrown support behind belong to agencies willing to promote anti-marijuana messaging. The alcohol industry and its lobbyists are hammering especially hard to stoke fears of exaggerated health and public safety risks from cannabis consumption, with overtones of Reefer Madness and children being poisoned by the demon weed.
Players within the booze industry are also pushing for draconian laws to arrest and charge people who are driving with cannabis metabolites in their blood, whether or not it can be proven that cannabis has impaired their driving.
Backroom Alcohol Industry & Government Collusion Against Cannabis
Publicly, the alcohol industry claims to take a neutral stance on the subject of cannabis legalization, but backroom lobbying suggests otherwise. Doug implies that industry get-togethers have become a place where the topic of legalized cannabis’ threat to the booze industry is now an official topic of discussion.
The industry is also ramping up its long-time public relations strategy that portrays alcohol as a substance that has health benefits and can fit into a healthy, active lifestyle. The industry has sponsored “scientific” studies by the likes of peer-review medical journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, claiming that moderate drinking is a tonic that reduces or has no effect on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Problem is, the definition of “moderate drinking” is stricter than the typical drinking habits of regular alcohol consumers. Official federal government dietary guidelines created by the US Department of Agriculture define moderate drinking as one glass of wine, one 12-ounce serving of beer, or one-and-a-half ounces of hard alcohol per day.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that many drinkers exceed these daily limits, while health experts suggest the current limits are too lenient.
The alcohol industry, in collusion with major government agencies, engages in tactics that remind us of the tobacco industry’s attempts to subvert medical research. Take a look at how the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is planning a hugely expensive study that seems biased when you look at its intent — which is to prove that moderate use of alcohol has health benefits.
Just the study’s title — Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health clinical trial — makes the researchers’ motivations suspect. But the evidence of a pro-booze bias pales in comparison to the fact that the NIH begged some of the world’s most powerful alcohol corporations — namely, Budweiser owner AB InBev and distiller Diageo — to fund the study.
Alcohol companies “donated” $67 million to NIH for the study, and what do you think they expect the study to report in return for these donations?
What’s more, several reports indicate that industry lobbyists told researchers that they expect the study to promote moderate use of alcohol as a health benefit.
The study calls for one group of participants to drink alcohol every day for six years, even if they normally would not have engaged in such an activity, to see if it lowers risk of heart disease and ailments such as diabetes, compared to people who consume no alcohol at all.
What the drinkers won’t be told is that consuming alcohol is proven to increase the risk of a multitude of health problems, thus causing harm to the study’s participants.
George Koob, director of the NIAAA, appears to show propensity to favor the alcohol industry. According to one account provided by science health website STAT, professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health Dr. Michael Siegel recalled how, when he presented evidence to Koob that alcohol shown in TV shows could impact underage drinking, the NIAAA head responded by screaming, “I don’t fucking care!”
Siegel said that at the time of this 2015 meeting, he was mystified as to why Koob was attacking researchers who were documenting alcohol industry malfeasance. Later, they learned Koob was soliciting money from the alcohol industry, apparently assuring industry bigwigs that he’d stop all future research into the negative effects of alcohol advertising.
In light of these revelations, Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, released the following statement:
These circumstances indicate that rather than acting in the best interest of the American public, Dr. Koob has been acting at the behest of the alcohol industry’s interests. The only way to excise this corruption from within the NIAAA and begin to restore public trust in the institute is for Dr. Koob to resign or be fired.
Cannabis Is Far Less Harmful Than Alcohol
The big problems that the alcohol industry faces when compared to cannabis is that marijuana simply has less negative side effects, no lethal dose or risk of death, and medical value backed by centuries of documented health benefits.
Add to that the fact that objective scientific and sociological studies link alcohol to fatalities while performing everyday tasks like driving, as well as an increase in liver disease and organ failure, acts of violence, and various types of cancer, and it would seem that alcohol is facing an uphill battle, despite the industry’s best efforts to curtail government-backed research into the efficacy of cannabis as a medical treatment.
According to the NIH, even moderate alcohol consumption can raise the risk of breast cancer, with 15 percent of all breast cancer deaths in the United States related to alcohol consumption. Studies also show that alcohol consumption by women who start regularly drinking before the age of 25 is especially likely to lead to breast cancer risk. Contrast alcohol’s dire health effects with research showing that cannabinoids appear to have anti-cancer efficacy.
Big Danger From Big Pharma
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the alcohol industry is only one of several segments clandestinely campaigning against legalized cannabis.
The pharmaceutical industry sees cannabis as a competitor, and has worked hard to squash legalization while also attempting to co-opt cannabis compounds to create synthetic cannabinoids and sell them as expensive prescription meds.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Insys Therapeutics, an Arizona-based Big Pharma company that manufactures pain medication Subsys, the brand name for fentanyl, an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin (and the same opioid that caused Prince’s fatal accidental overdose in 2016).
Insys has developed dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC that the company markets as a prescription medicine to treat nausea and loss of appetite in people being treated for HIV/AIDS or who are in chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
According to The Washington Post, in 2016, when residents of Arizona were voting on marijuana legalization ballot measure Proposition 205, Insys donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. At the time it was the biggest donation to the prohibitionist group that successfully defeated Prop. 205. Insys said it opposed the measure because “it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.”
However, investigative news organization The Intercept revealed documents showing the real reason Insys opposed legalization had more to do with money than any valiant desire to protect public health.
In the disclosure statement submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Insys stated:
Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate. … If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.
Insys also admitted that scientific literature has proven whole-plant marijuana is superior to synthetic dronabinol, and describes cannabis as a “competitive threat.”
This pharmaceutical company can be accurately described as a sinister corporation. Its founder, billionaire John N. Kapoor, is currently under indictment for bribing doctors to prescribe the highly addictive Insys fentanyl. According to Fortune, several doctors have already been jailed for taking Insys bribes, and the company’s leadership is also likely to be imprisoned.
Big Pharma backing groups who oppose cannabis legalization is nothing new. The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America and many other national anti-marijuana organizations receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of government money, along with corporate payoffs from companies like OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and opioid manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
Indeed, Big Pharma corporations have long been accused of putting profit before people, with the likes of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox suing Purdue, alleging the company used falsehoods and financial incentives to encourage doctors to overprescribe deadly prescription opiates.
Rampant Corporate Greed & Corruption
The flagrant corruption and harms perpetrated by Big Alcohol and Big Pharma are much bigger than those industries. They’re the result of an increasing corporatization of our economy and political systems.
As the rich get richer and the middle class disappears, large corporations buy out smaller companies to create monopolies that limit market choices. Billionaires and their profit enterprises control major segments of every commodity and service, along with controlling government and politicians. And the rest of us are left with fewer choices, lower quality of products and services, higher prices, a marked reduction in democracy, and the realization that our future is increasingly dominated by a worldwide elite and their mega-corporations.
This change is infiltrating the cannabis industry, with the likes of Scotts Miracle-Gro spending hundreds of millions of dollars buying out hydroponics grow shops, manufacturers and distributors to achieve monopoly control and push out independent cultivators, producers and grow shops.
Fortunately, you have the power to fight back against the big-money takeover of our economy by greedy corporations.
You can choose to consume medical marijuana instead of pharmaceuticals.
You can be aware that some physicians have been unethically roped in by Big Pharma to overprescribe and promote dangerous, addictive prescription drugs.
You can boycott corporations and industries that oppose cannabis, along with industries and companies that engage in monopoly business practices. This includes Scotts Miracle-Gro and its front companies and subsidiaries General Hydroponics, Gavita, Sunlight Supply, Black Magic and Botanicare, as well as the alcohol and Big Pharma industries.
Vote with your dollars by supporting companies that are friends of the cannabis community.
Even my wine and spirits buddy Doug is now trying to get a job in the legal weed industry, because he sees the alcohol industry heading toward rocky shoals due to cannabis legalization.
But he also wants to stop selling booze because he knows alcohol is an inherently harmful substance sold by an industry that clandestinely opposes cannabis legalization.
“I need a clear conscience,” Doug tells me. “It’s hard for me to sleep at night when I see what alcohol does to people. I feel guilty promoting it. Even if I have to take a pay cut, I want in on the marijuana industry.”