Humulus lupulus, otherwise known as the hops found in craft beer, is a close relative of the cannabis plant with a similar chemical makeup and properties. Cousins by nature, the similarities go beyond just the plants themselves. As cannabis fights for legal status, the story feels all too familiar to those in the craft beer industry. The cannabis industry may be uncharted territory thus far, but there are still many lessons the industry at large can take from the emergence of today’s craft beer industry. Craft beer has excelled in some ways and fallen flat in others, and it’s key for cannabis leaders to recognize its history to enjoy the same boons and avoid the same pitfalls.
The road to legality isn’t over. Cannabis leaders must create a community, use its resources, and incite change at both the state and federal levels.
While the prohibition of alcohol is a distant memory, its end brought legal responsibility to the state level, and many post-Prohibition laws are still felt in New York (and the country at large) today. To this day, for example, consumers cannot purchase beer before 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. Unbelievably, craft breweries weren’t able to serve full pints of beer on their premises until 2014 with the passing of the Craft NY Act. The legalization of cannabis is following the same path of state-by-state jurisdiction, making for a slow, uncertain transition and tons of red tape for emerging businesses. Craft beer’s success in easing state and federal restrictions came from its economic success, the creation of an active community with groups like the New York Brewers Association, and lobbying with the government to continue modernizing restrictive laws. In order to keep the train moving, this will be necessary in the cannabis industry as well.
Cannabis business owners must also be educators.
When the craft beer boom first began in the early ’90s, very few people even knew what an IPA was, let alone had strong preferences on its myriad styles we see today. As a result, the industry took a grassroots approach that involved a great deal of consumer education. This education created the industry’s key to success: a passionate, engaged community of craft beer drinkers who served as brand ambassadors for their favorite breweries. Like craft beer, cannabis has different styles and characteristics (terpenes *link to our dictionary directory) that satisfy various consumer preferences and experiences. Consumer education is a great opportunity for the cannabis industry to fight stigmas, grow its consumer base, and create positive conversations.
Inclusivity needs to start now.
Diversity is now a buzzword in the craft beer industry, a good thirty years from the start of some of the industry’s largest companies. Movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have created a much-needed reckoning in the industry. Well-known brands like Modern Times, Tired Hands, and Founders Brewing Co. have been stormed with sexual harassment allegations and called out for instances of racism within their company cultures. Cannabis can learn from craft beer’s mistake by establishing diversity and inclusivity now, at the very start of its growth. One such opportunity is addressing the fact Black Americans use cannabis at the highest rate among major ethnic groups while also suffering from the highest incarceration rates for cannabis. A New York City 2021 report of marijuana-related arrests disclosed that people of color comprise 94% of those arrested. It’s *high time* Black Americans reap the economic benefits of cannabis legalization.
With a similar path to legalization after years of operating in the shadows, the cannabis industry has a lot to learn from craft beer in both its successes and failures. There is no clear-cut strategy for an emerging cannabis business, but these lessons can help ease the challenges. Let’s raise a glass together—whether it’s a pint or a bowl—to the future.