Cannabis is a hot topic, but beer continues to thrive
The push for legal recreational cannabis has continued globally. This isn’t a surprise - after all, marijuana is the most popular and consumed illicit substance on earth. It’s no different in Australia where, in 2016, 35 percent of those aged 14 and older had used cannabis at least once in their lifetime, and 10.4 percent had used the substance in the past 12 months.
But cannabis isn’t the only thing that thrives in Australia’s inebriation market. Aussies also love their frothy.
According to a 2017 Fiftyfive Research for Lion Nathan, 9.1 million Australians drink beer. That’s over 36 percent of the population, and 6.7 million of them drink beer regularly. The same research suggests that over 9.1 million of the 17.2 million Australians aged 18 to 75 will drink beer sometime during the year - that’s over half of that age group.
According to Roy Morgan, beer makes up the vast majority of Australia’s alcohol consumption. src
So who takes the crown between cannabis and beer in Australia? That has a lot to do with the legal aspects - recreational cannabis is illegal, while beer is legal. But if recreational cannabis becomes legal, will Australians put down the amber fluid and pick up a joint instead?
The economics of cannabis vs beer
Both beer and cannabis have been tried by large chunks of the Australian population. However, marijuana’s recreational use thrives in an underground market, making it difficult to get a complete, accurate figure of its monetary value. But there is a legal medical cannabis market in the country, and it is booming - estimated to hit $1.5 billion by 2025.
Beer, on the other hand, is a major driver of the Australian economy right now. The beer industry is not just about its monetary worth, sales, or taxes - it literally drives several important economic sectors, including job creation, and accounts for 1% of Australia’s GDP with $16.5 billion annually.
But this might be an unfair comparison when you consider, again, the fact that recreational cannabis use is illegal in Australia while recreational beer consumption is legal. In that case, the predicted $1.5 billion for medical cannabis by 2025 (just one part of the marijuana industry) is quite impressive, even when compared to beer’s $16.5 billion.
Legal medical cannabis is relatively young, while legal beer is not
Comparing the medical cannabis market to the beer market is not only comparing a part of something to the whole of another thing. It’s also comparing a newly legalised substance to another that has been legal for so long.
It was only in 2016 that Australia legalised medical marijuana use - just around 4 years ago. And despite the red tape hindering access to that legal medical cannabis, the market has still boomed in such a short amount of time.
So there’s a great chance that legal medical cannabis will become as great an economic driver as beer at some point in the future. And, again, if recreational cannabis ever gets legalised nationwide, that future will be right very near.
Perhaps the best way to look at it is through the eyes of the people
Compared to Americans and others, Australians are quite conservative. Our views of cannabis have only recently started to change.
According to Roy Morgan, only around 33 percent of Australians supported legalising cannabis for recreational use back in 2015. Last year, that number had climbed to 42 percent - although a significant jump, it still is the minority compared to the 49 percent of Aussies that continue to oppose the idea.
So although Australians’ views on recreational cannabis are changing, the majority still remain very conservative when it comes to marijuana. This creates an environment where its use might be frowned upon, discouraging users to admit to cannabis consumption and/or discouraging non-users from trying it.
So while beer is widely accepted in Australia, it’s difficult to see cannabis kicking it to the curb - even if it becomes legal for recreational use one day.
Final words - Can we all just get along?
Perhaps there’s no battle between beer drinkers and cannabis users. After all, both substances are often consumed at the same time behind closed doors.
But in places like the United States, a lot of proponents pushing for a nationwide legal cannabis law point to the claim that cannabis will reduce the number of alcohol drinkers in general. In fact, beer consumption in the US has declined for 5 consecutive years, and only 11 of the 50 states there have legalised cannabis. Canada also saw a 6% decline in beer sales in March 2019, just 6 months after their legal recreational cannabis law went into effect.
However, this probably won’t be the case in Australia, considering how conservative we are. The more realistic view is that both cannabis and beer will coexist if, one day, recreational cannabis use becomes legal. After all, Australians love beer. And if all else fails, perhaps both the cannabis and beer industry will merge, creating CBD-infused bevvies for everyone to get along.