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Colorado Drinks Retailers Are Split On Cannabis Impact

March 29, 2019

Five years after recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado, the state’s top beverage alcohol retailers appear split on whether the move has impacted sales. Those who see cannabis cutting into alcohol sales foresee widespread consequences nationwide as more states eye legalization.

“We’ve lost the newly 21-year-olds. The liquor store isn’t their first stop anymore,” says Tiffany Lough, general manager of Liquor Mart in Boulder. But they do become customers after a few years, she adds. Jack Backman, co-owner of Cheers Liquor Mart in Colorado Springs, says, “Marijuana has impacted our business, as customers are mostly not inclined to both smoke and drink.” Backman points to $1.6 billion in recreational and medicinal marijuana sales in Colorado in 2018, up from $1 billion in 2016, and says cannabis “has had a huge impact, and is still growing.”

But Bruce Dierking, co-founder of Hazel’s Beverage World in Boulder, says he’s seen no negative impact from legalization. Hazel’s opened in 2012, just two years before recreational marijuana became legal. “Boulder has always been cannabis-friendly, even before the law went into effect,” Dierking notes. That view dovetails with a recent report from the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., which found that recreational cannabis hasn’t impacted beverage alcohol sales in trailblazing states including Colorado. Ten states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana use.

Still, some say spirits—and especially beer—have been impacted. Liquor Mart’s Lough says both have been affected, while Backman says beer alone is taking a hit. Jeanne McEvoy, president of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, agrees that beer has been most vulnerable. “Consumers only have so much disposable income,” she explains. “It comes down to a choice.” But Steve Findley, executive director of the Colorado Beer Distributors Association, disputes the notion that beer sales have been adversely affected. “Our numbers say no,” he says. Findley is quick to add, however, that in the last five years Colorado’s population has grown and the state’s economy has been strong—factors that may have softened any blow to beer sales.

Lough remains wary. She believes that if recreational cannabis sales are permitted in all states, “liquor stores will not be the first stop” for as many as 25% of all 21-year-olds. Backman also expresses concern. “Every state will face lower consumption of alcohol sales, just as we have,” he says. “Marijuana has become a large competitor for all of us.”Terri Allan

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