How Legalized Marijuana May Impact Wine Sales…and Not

winepotI’ve never been the guy that used alcohol, let alone wine, to self medicate, to get my drunk on or to “come down” after a particularly stressful or tough day. Even in my youth when drinking was experimental and powered by weekend, peer-induced partying I was the guy that sipped my beer or my Seven and Seven slowly. Ive always had an aversion to the feeling of being drunk. But I do like the taste and the am fascinate by the diversity of types of wine and spirits. Hence, I’m a user.

However, I suspect my own motivation for using alcohol is different from a whole number of others who in fact do consume beer, wine and spirits at least in part, if not in whole, to get drunk. It’s this knowledge that is leading me and many others to wonder if legalization of marijuana will bite into the alcohol market as the move to legalize moves from Washington State and Colorado to most of the rest of the U.S. And it certainly will.

The early evidence springing from various studies suggests that availability of marijuana DOES act as a substitute for alcohol and Andrew Sullivan does a good job of laying out the research.

Of course, the extent to which marijuana use will replace wine use will only go so far as to impact those sales of wine that are made to folks who drink primarily to get drunk. I don’t know how large this market for wine is. But I doubt it’s too big. And wine shouldn’t worry that much as it has a huge advantage over marijuana.

While both substances can be used to “calm your nerves”, only wine provides its users with the chance to explore the cultural and historical differences of many lands via consumption and only wine provides and authentic and reliable way to enhance the a full menu meal. And only wine allows you to widely and deeply explore these things at one sitting without necessarily devolving into groggy stupor. Although, wine has the advantage of providing that option also.

11 Responses

  1. Sunshine - January 9, 2014

    I agree with the general premise presented here, with respect to the alcohol industry. But I would like to point out that not ONLY wine provides its users with the chance to explore cultures; not ONLY wine enhances a meal or social experience, and not ONLY wine allows you to not devolve into a groggy stupor. I know many pot smokers (and eaters) who enhance their meals and social experiences with marijuana, explore different types from different places noting differences and expressing preferences, and most certainly do not “devolve into a groggy stupor” when using it. There are those who use wine both to taste and also to get drunk, but I’d wager that the majority of “wine drunks” drink the same wine day in and day out, whether it’s an expensive wine or a cheap one, and they are not “exploring” with wine, at least not most of the time. There are also those for whom a marijuana habit is less damaging than an alcohol habit, healthwise, psychologically and socially. For me personally, I much prefer wine. I DO like to explore different types of wine (and beer and spirits) from different places, and do not use it to get drunk. I also think that as marijuana gains social acceptance and legality, it will more closely mirror the alcohol industry than you think. It can’t have the same type of storied history, simply because it’s use has not been as widespread historically as alcohol. But pot culture would no doubt be very different if it was legal and acceptable everywhere.

  2. Tom Wark - January 9, 2014


    How often do we hear these words:

    “Hey, this Beef Bourguignon is looking good. What dope should we light up with it?”

  3. Durkee Atwood - January 9, 2014

    An interesting thought but I think we are talking chalk and cheese or the difference between the two. I can see how blending various Marijuana leaves could provide some distinctive notes but as far as I can make out it is quantity not necessarily quality that appeals to most connoisseurs. What I mean by that is the strength rather than the subtle effects of a mild and fragrantly amusing little vintage. If a ‘pick-me-up’ was to be placed on the open market (I don’t mean Sanatogen) then it could be assumed that the wine industry would be under threat. But then Coke-Cola and Pepsi-Cola dis this in the thirties as both these pep drinks contained cocaine. During the second world war US troops preferred Coke-Cola to any local liquor (including wine). Of course it can’t be ignored that most were between 18 and 20 and therefore unaccustomed to the taste of alcoholic beverages let alone the after effects. Uncle Sam supplied the troops with plenty of Coke and it helped soldiers fight fatigue. The Chinese chew the cocaine leaf to pep themselves up, so it is still regarded as okay. Had Coke-Cola been able to continue adding cocaine derivatives to this refreshing pop drink then it might well have challenged wine sales. I am old enough to still remember Coke-Cola when it had a slightly bitter taste and not so sugary. When chilled it was more refreshing than a cold larger and would keep you alert and moderately happy. Some wines make me feel alive and others can make me maudling and self absorbed. My memories of Marijuana is much the same although I did spend over an hour with my head on a table in a cafe in Amsterdam after three puffs of something called super scag or something. I have never been that way on wine. I did wince at the screw cap on wine bottles but I have grown used to it now. Anyway, having a screw cap means that I don’t have to finish the bottle. The similarity I suppose with Marijuana is a preference for a roll-up or a pipe, bong or Hookah versus decant or carafe, filter or filtered? What name would you have for a person who keeps and recommends Marijuana, a person who knows the difference between two weedyards in a particular valley; or what food would a particular puff help the flavour or cleanes the palet? None to be experienced indoors in a comfortable chair or an official tasting. But make a wine from Marijuana and perhaps it could be a cheeky and yet full bodied (green?) to have with a veggie burger.

  4. Sonoman - January 9, 2014


    Respectfully, I must disagree. Smoking (or eating) Marijuana and it’s derivatives CAN be a great way to experience different cultures and histories. Ever smoked Afghani hashish? Humboldt buds? Thai stick? B.C. keef? Mexican dirt weed? The different varieties and growing methods are every bit as diverse and enjoyable to learn about as they are with wine. Different climates, soils and strains grown and grower interventions can yield massively different forms of marijuana. Go into any medical marijuana dispensary and you will be presented with dozens if not hundreds of different types with full descriptions of potency, flavors, type of effects, origin, growing method etc etc. “Groggy stupor” is just one of many results that can be achieved, and it usually comes from over indulging, which is no fun with wine either. There are more similar aspects between the wine and the weed than there are dissimilar aspects In my humble opinion. It’s a shame we try to pretend that wine is not also a drug and never talk about the various enjoyable effects different wines have. The effects from a few glasses of champagne are quite different from a few glasses of Napa Cab or a Santa Barbara Chardonnay. We like to neglect the fact that a HUGE reason people drink wine is the alcohol content, even if their objective is not to get drunk in that sitting. Just my two cents…

  5. John Cesano - January 9, 2014

    I manage a winery tasting room in Hopland, a town on Hwy 101 in Mendocino County. Two doors down from my shop is a marijuana dispensary and across the street is a place to get an evaluation and doctor’s note. I am where wine and marijuana meet, if you will.

    I drink wine, and enjoy it.

    I do not smoke marijuana because it would simply cause me to Vulcan mind meld with my couch in what appeared to be a drooling coma. The stuff today is too powerful for me.

    My neighbors at the dispensary were very kind and gave me a tour, describing their medicines and the benefits their patients derive from them.

    It turns out that not all marijuana is grown for THC potency, and that different strains can be as varied as wine varietals. Weed Somms could point out flavors ranging from Blueberry to Bubble Gum. I also found out that there are oils and salves that have almost no THC, but are extremely high in pain blocking CBDs, that can be applied topically and treat muscle and joint (no pun intended) pain more efficaciously than liver damaging prescription pain meds.

    So, even though I do not consume the product, I am aware that cannabis is more nuanced an experience than many would choose to paint. It isn’t 1970 anymore, folks.

  6. Tom Wark - January 9, 2014


    Are there people who are so taken with the aesthetic characteristics of dope that they regularly smoke it (or eat it) with no primary intent of getting high?

    I went to Humboldt State University for three years. Let’s just say I have a well-developed appreciation for those folks who are marijuana connoisseurs. I never met anyone—consumer, dealer or distributor—who smoked the stuff with no intent to get high.

    Now, on the other hand, I’ve been in the wine business for almost 25 years and lived in Sonoma and Napa for almost 20 years and I’ve met thousands of people who consume wine with no intent whatsoever for getting drunk…and they succeed.

    I’m just saying….

  7. Tim - January 9, 2014


    Respectfully, I will state that if wine did not contain ethanol, yet tasted exactly the same without it, sales would drop by 90% immediately. On the other hand, if cannabis did not have any psychoactive effects, I might well substitute it for tobacco in my pipe–some of it smells pretty interesting.

    Claiming an anecdote that ‘thousands’ of people drink wine without any desire for the effects of ethanol is like saying there are thousands of people who don’t snort cocaine–they just really, really like the way it smells: it beggars belief.

  8. Dwight Furrow - January 9, 2014

    Hi Tom,

    You and Tim are each half right. Tom is right that marijuana smokers intend to get high. It is the aesthetic differences in psychoactive effects that they enjoy, the differences in aromas are secondary. I have many “weed friends” who talk about these different effects with the same subtlety as wine tasters discuss wine aromas.

    But Tim, I quite agree with Tom that many people who are into wine care little about getting drunk. They enjoy the flavors, aromas and textures. In fact, I routinely lament the fact that wine is alcoholic. If I were immune to its alcoholic effect I could taste a lot more wine in a day. Even with sipping and spitting, the alcohol can undermine judgment after awhile. Of course, without alcohol the wine would not have the flavor or texture that it has.

    As to the original post, I doubt that legalized pot will affect the wine industry. In fact, given that pot enhances the hedonic impact of sensory stimuli, it might make wine taste better.

  9. Michael De Loach - January 11, 2014

    There is non-alcoholic wine. It accounts for less than 1% of the market.nobody smokes low THC hemp for pleasure, and it is not an option for purchase. Draw your own conclusions.

  10. Tom Wark - January 11, 2014


    You always make me look bad—saying something in 20 words that takes me 200. Problem is, in my house growing up, if you you didn’t use more words than you needed to say something, you just weren’t trying.


  11. Justin Gilman - March 22, 2014

    I live in Colorado where marajuana was legalized this year. The wine shop I manage has seen a decrease in sales and numerous sales repsin the alcohol industry have mentioned how slow it is on the streets as well.

    There are other factors like taxes and Obamacare that can be hampering our sales. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the real answer. There are lots of reports talking about UC applications going up, home builders increasing the numbers to meet demand, and hotel rates going up because of tourism behind the marajuana movement.

    Ultimately I think the wine drinker and the pot smoker are two different people. The person standing in line at my store smelling like weed isn’t buying Napa Cab or even cheap box wine. He’s buying cheap beer and cheap vodka to keep the costs down. This person is also buying small quantities.

    I don’t smoke it myself, but enjoy the comments about the soil diversities and different strands of marajuana. I would be stupid to think you could’t be as involved in pot production as you could be in wine, beer or spirit production.

    The demographic of my wine shop market only has so much money to live. I believe if they chose smoke (and drink), than it is influencing my shop and the alcohol industry somehow. The Craft Brewer’s Association of Colorado said last Summer that there was 1 brewery to every 30k residents. Now with pot legalization, I believe there can be too much of a good thing.

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