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Michigan’s Craft Brewers Are Ready to Welcome Legal Weed With Open Arms

Legalization appears inevitable in the Great Lake State, and local micro breweries are already thinking collaboration instead of competition.

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Cannabis and craft beer are two peas in a pod. They both intoxicate, rely on small business imagery, produce handmade products, and are often backed by corporate dollars they’d rather have their customers ignore. They also find solace in the same locations, with the microbrew hubs of Colorado, Oregon and California being some of the first to welcome legal weed. In Michigan, where craft beer has long been big business, and legalization could come as soon as 2018, local breweries are unsure of the effect another readily available intoxicant might have on their business. But instead of campaigning against cannabis, they are welcoming the new industry and the economic boom it is expected to bring. 

According to Revue West Michigan, Great Lake State brewers are happy to discuss the similarities between the people attracted to both industries, and, in addition to the prospect of collaboration with cannabusinesses, readily admit that they won’t stand in the way of legalization because, well, they make a product decidedly more dangerous than weed.

“I don’t believe it will have any immediate profound effect on our business or industry directly, but in the long run may add to it as opposed to take from our industry,” Seth Rivard, co-founder of Rockford Brewing Co, told Revue. “In my personal experience, there is a ‘high’ correlation of crossover in the demographics between craft-beer lovers and pot lovers. If pot use does grow over time because of legalization, we’ll probably see an uptick in craft beer fans as well.”

Rivard said marijuana is “safer than beer, hands down” and hopes that down the line Rockford Brewery “would consider a 420 happy hour with half-off munchies and dank brew! The craft beer industry is already well connected to the Mary Jane culture.”

In places like Colorado and Oregon, in the months immediately preceding the start of legalization, craft beer companies offered mixed opinions of the incoming industry, with some industry experts worrying that weed might eat into the micro brew market share.

As time has passed and legalization has set in, beer shipments are up in Colorado, and the two industries have come to coexist. In fact, if any alcohol producers are expected to take a hit from marijuana’s new reign, it’s the multinational beer conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch. For now, it’s too early to call, and beer experts will readily tell you that anyone making objective statements about the interaction of the industries has had one too many. 

“It’s too early to tell,” Bart Watson, chief economist at the Colorado-based Brewers Association, said. “Anyone telling you there is a strong effect one way or another is probably jumping to conclusions.”

What we can tell about Colorado in the years since legalization, though, is that real estate prices have skyrocketed, small towns are able to attract new residents, and increased tax dollars are helping to build brand new infrastructure. For Michigan’s craft brewers, those changes would be more than welcomed. 

“As we are the only microbrewery in our rural county, our long-term growth is dependent upon population growth in our city and county,” Nick Looman co-owner of Newaygo Brewing Co., said. “Any business looking to open a new multi-million dollar production facility in the county, let alone in my city limits, will bring workers, bring demand for housing, bring additional demand for jobs … and will boost our local economy. More importantly to me, these families will bring youngsters who will increase my hiring pool. That is what I need most.”

In California, a recent collaboration between Lagunitas Brewing Co. and Absolute Extracts resulted in a terpene flavored beer and hop flavored vape cartridges, exactly the type of venture Rivard and Rockford Brewing are dreaming of.

“A casual observation is that there is a high correlation between craft beer lovers and tokers,” Rivard said. “You may see more niche-based grass-themed things happen.”

Of course, for all of those ideas to turn into more than just a pipe dream, Michiganders will need to continue their activism and follow through on the fight for legalization, a task that hasn’t been easy in years past, but is currently looking more promising than ever.