Two trends—legal cannabis markets expanding and millennials drinking less—are converging, with major implications for both the cannabis and alcoholic beverage industries, and perhaps society more generally, if cannabis gradually supplants alcohol as the intoxicant of choice.
For several years, millennials and Gen Z adults in the U.S., Canada and Europe have been moderating how much and how often they drink, which has driven alcohol beverage brands to reinvent their offerings Global beer brands including Peroni, Heineken, Guinness, Budweiser and, perhaps most remarkably, Leffe, brewed by Belgian monks since 1240 (but now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev), have responded by introducing low- or zero-alcohol beers. Diageo, maker of Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Ketel One vodkas, Captain Morgan and other well-known spirits, recently acquired Seedlip, a line of non-alcoholic distilled spirits based on centuries-old recipes, for $300 million.
It is unclear how access to legal cannabis relates to declines in drinking by millennials, but there is evidence of a correlation. CDC data analyzed by the research firm Cowen showed binge drinking rates were 13 percent lower in states with legal cannabis compared to prohibition states, and that the rate of first-use of cannabis by adults increased as binge drinking declined. Based on that data, Cowen projected flat or slow growth for alcohol brands while increasing its projection of cannabis market size from $50 billion in 2026 to $75 billion in 2030.
It is worth noting cannabis-infused beverages are a relatively small slice of the $11.3 billion in U.S. cannabis sales in 2018. Fortune Business Insights estimated global sales of cannabis-infused beverages totaled $174 million in 2018. The continuing federal prohibition of cannabis has kept risk-averse global brands from investing in the U.S. market, which has left the market to regional brands such as Lagunitas’ cannabis-infused beverages in California.
The legalization of cannabis edibles in