Is Legal Cannabis a Threat to Alcohol Sales

July 5, 2022

<Return to All Content

It’s no surprise to anyone that the giants of the alcohol industry have trained a keen eye
on legal cannabis since the launch of the first Adult-Use markets. With BDSA’s Market
Forecast showing that the US legal cannabis industry is on track to total ~$46 billion by
2026, many in the alcohol and beverage space see cannabis as a unique opportunity to
expand and reach new consumers. On the other side of that coin, others in the alcohol
industry are increasingly wary of the potential threat that rising cannabis consumer
penetration spells out to alcohol sales. Consumption of cannabis by alcohol consumers
is on the rise per BDSA Consumer Insights data, and some consumers are reporting
consuming specific types of alcoholic beverages less often, but consumer attitudes
also show that consumption occasions for alcohol and cannabis differ enough that the
current threat to alcohol sales posed by legal cannabis is small.


Rapid Growth of the Cannabis Consumer Base

Cannabis consumption is on the rise across the US, from the very youngest new markets
to the states with the most established industries. Across Adult-Use markets, BDSA
Consumer Insights data show that past six-month consumption has risen rapidly, from
32% in Spring 2018 to 47% in Fall 2021. Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon
have all cracked the 50% threshold for past six-month consumption. Notably, the young
Arizona market has seen consumer penetration rise a whopping 31% since Spring of
2018, indicative of a trend seen in other markets of increased availability leading to faster
growth in consumer penetration.

Cannabis and Alcohol Co-Consumers

One demographic that has seen a swift rise in cannabis consumption is alcohol consumers.
BDSA Consumer Insights data from Fall 2021 show that the ~55% of alcohol consumers
in states with access to legal, Adult-Use cannabis report consuming cannabis in the
past six months, a 7% increase from the previous Fall. While consumption of alcohol
by cannabis consumers remained flat over that same period, the number of cannabis
consumers who report co-consuming cannabis with certain types of alcohol has also
seen an appreciable rise.

While past six-month co-consumption stayed constant, there is a rising trend of pairing
cannabis and certain alcohol products for the same occasion. Between Fall 2018 and Fall
2021, the share of cannabis consumers reporting pairing cannabis with wine rose ~10% to
total ~20% of all cannabis consumers. Rise in cannabis/alcohol pairing was comparable
with cocktails and craft beer over that same period.

Cannabis as a Threat to Alcohol Sales: Consumption Occasions Matter!

With this rise in co-consumption by alcohol consumers, some in the bev/alc space have
reasonable concerns about how the interaction with cannabis may blunt (pun intended!)
alcohol sales. Cannabis consumption may be seeing a surge, but it’s important to note
that cannabis does not challenge all use occasions associated with alcohol.

When we segment alcohol consumption occasions, some are clearly safer from being
cannibalized by cannabis consumption. High energy social occasions such as bar nights,
special events, and date nights present a lower risk of cannabis impact to alcohol sales,
while consumption for health/wellness, creative endeavors, and certain outdoor activities
are more often cannabis specific. The occasions that present the greatest potential
“risk” to alcohol are the “in-betweens,” such as unwinding at the end of the day or just
hanging out.

After a long day at work, taking care of the kids, or just managing your day, it’s not
uncommon for adults to look to beer, wine, or spirits to promote relaxation. But the line
is blurring with as many co-consumers saying this time is a cannabis occasion as they say
it is an alcohol occasion. The “Unwind Time” is higher risk as cannabis products are more
accessible and many consume to relieve stress, sleep better, and relax. This potential
“risk” spans multiple consumer segments seeking these benefits.

Hanging out with friends and enjoying a cold beer is a common alcohol occasion in the
US. These situations are a time for connections and are rooted in personal experience.
They often occur in more personal settings but can extend into public spaces. Beer,
particularly Craft beer, is a common beverage for these situations. Cannabis may
challenge the craft beer space during these occasions, as nearly 40% indicate these
moments are also a cannabis occasion.

What about cannabis beverages?

Though beverages still make up a small (~7% share) of cannabis edible dollar sales,
beverages saw a ~65% year-over-year increase in dollar sales in 2021 across BDSA
tracked markets, a sizable jump compared to the 30% increase in total edible dollar
sales over that same period.

Some may expect to see cannabis beverages as the top choice for consumers looking to
substitute cannabis for alcohol, but BDSA Consumer data suggests that is not always the
case . “Relax/be mellow” is the most highly cited benefit of inhalable consumption, which
makes inhalables a likely choice for occasions such as “Unwind” and “just handing out,”
the most likely “threat” occasions to alcohol sales. While new fast-acting technology
such as nano-emulsion continues to improve consumer experiences with beverages,
beverages continue to compete with inhalables for the same need states. Continued
growth in the cannabis beverage space will also be encouraged by brands investing in
consumer education, and delivering products that provide consumers with consistent,
repeatable experiences.


Download Article

Download Is Legal Cannabis a Threat to Alcohol Sales
View the Article

More Content