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Legalised cannabis could devastate US wine industry, analyst warns

Wealthy middle-aged women — the biggest wine-drinking demographic in the US — say their cannabis use would increase if the federal government legalised the drug.

US consumers could turn away from wine in favour of legalised marijuana, according to beverages analyst Bourcard Nesin at food and agribusiness financial services provider Rabobank.

Marijuana is currently legal in nine states, while Canada looks to legalise the drugs in the summer and Michigan will likely legalise cannabis after a ballot in November.

Nesin noted that 34% of women, 56% of baby boomers and 67% of those who earn over $50,000 (£35,000) said their marijuana consumption would increase if the US federal government legalised marijuana, according to a 2017 poll by Marist and Yahoo News. This demographic is also the most likely to consume wine.

Nesin told Rabobanks’s RaboResearch: “It makes sense that older, wealthier consumers would see the largest bump in marijuana use after legalisation. These individuals conceivably have the most to lose (like mortgages or high-paying jobs) if caught using/possessing illegal drugs.”

Marijuana could also have the edge for the health conscious consumer. It’s calorie-free and 79% of US consumers believe it’s safer than alcohol, according to the Marist and Yahoo News poll.

Finally, the states which have legalised cannabis also have high wine consumption. Over 30% of US wine is consumed in states which have legalised marijuana.

Nesin said: “Marijuana is not going to replace wine with dinner. If you are eating steak-frites, chances are you are still reaching for a Cabernet.

Could pot replace Pinot? Photograph: Heath Alseike

“Marijuana is really competing for the relaxation-indulgence occasion and social occasion. A ‘vape’ could replace the glass of wine after a long day’s work, and a box of marijuana-infused chocolates could replace the bottle of wine brought to a friend’s house party.”

The drinks industry, however, is already innovating to respond to the upsurge in cannabis consumption. Last December, Rebel Coast Winery in California launched the first cannabis-infused wine of its kind. It replaces the alcoholic content of the wine with THC, the psychoactive component of the plant.

The drink promises to retain the complexity of the wine while appealing to cannabis enthusiasts. Replacing the alcohol with THC could also appeal to health-conscious consumers, being calorie-free and perceived as the safer drug.

The beer industry, which analysts also predict will be affected by the legalisation of cannabis, is also capitalising on the opportunities the drug presents. Keith Villa, the former MillerCoors brewer behind Blue Moon beer, launched Ceria this month, a company producing cannabis-infused, non-alcoholic beer.

Villa told the drinks business: “Currently there is no way to socially consume cannabis. The only ways you have now are to smoke, but second hand smoke is anti-social. Chocolates aren’t really sociable in the same way as a beverage either.”

Cannabis-infused beer or wine, then, could become the preferred method of consuming the newly legalised drug.

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