Legal marijuana is having an unexpected effect on the beer industry — and Anheuser-Busch should be worried

Beer sales are taking a hit in states where marijuana is legal.

So far this year, beer volumes have dropped roughly 2% in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which have all legalized recreational pot, according to Neilsen data cited in a recent report from Cowen & Co.

At the same time, marijuana consumption has grown in those states.

The data indicates that many beer drinkers are swapping their six-packs for marijuana instead, and that has major implications for the beer industry — especially for makers of cheaper beers like Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors Brewing Company.

"Mainstream beer" including Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, is "under siege" from legal marijuana, with volumes down 4.4% in the states studied, according to Cowen and Co. analysts.

Craft beer sales growth is slowing in those states, but not to the same degree.

Screen Shot 2016 12 07 at 9.27.33 AMREUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The trends show significant overlap between buyers of cheaper beers and users of marijuana.

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Marijuana legalization laws by state
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Marijuana legalization laws by state

Alabama: Medical use only, otherwise possession is a felony

(Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images)

Alaska: Marijuana legalized for medical and recreational use 

(Photo: Zoonar/N.Okhitin via Getty Images)

Arizona: Marijuana legalized for medical use

(Photo: Mikel Ortega via Getty Images)

Arkansas: Medical use only

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California: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Colorado: Legal for medical and recreational use  

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Connecticut: Decriminalized and legalized for medical use 

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Delaware: Decriminalized

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Florida: Medical use only

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Georgia: Medical use only

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Hawaii: Medical use only

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Idaho: Not legal

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Illinois: Decriminalized

(Photo: VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm)

Indiana: Not legal

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Iowa: Medical use only

(Photo: Getty Images)

Kansas: Not legal

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Kentucky: Not legal

(Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images)

Louisiana: Medical use only

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Maine: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Maryland: Decriminalized

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Massachusetts: Legal

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Michigan: Medical use only

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Minnesota: Decriminalized

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mississippi: Decriminalized on first offense

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Missouri: Not legal

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Montana: Medical use only

(Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images)

Nebraska: Decriminalized on first offense only

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Nevada: Legal

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New Hampshire: Medical use only

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New Jersey: Medical use only

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New Mexico: Medical use only

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New York: Decriminalized unless in public view

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

North Carolina: Decriminalized

(Photo: Getty Images)

North Dakota: Medical use only

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Ohio: Decriminalized

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Oklahoma: Medical use only

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Oregon: Legal for medical and recreational use

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Pennsylvania: Medical use only

(Photo: Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

Rhode Island: Decriminalized

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South Carolina: Not legal

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South Dakota: Not legal

(Photo: Dave and Les Jacobs via Getty Images)

Tennessee: Medical use only

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Texas: Medical use only, decriminalized in Houston and Dallas

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Utah: Not legal 

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Vermont: Decriminalized

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Virginia: Not legal

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Washington: Legal for medical and recreational use

(Photo: Shutterstock)

West Virginia: Medical use only

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wisconsin: Medical use only

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wyoming: Not legal 

(Photo: Space Images via Getty Images)

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"The pressure we are seeing on lower-priced beers is consistent with the trends we are seeing in cannabis use by income group nationally," analysts wrote. "Indeed, while cannabis incidence has been on the rise nationally, over the last 10 years (through 2014, the most recently available) we have seen the biggest increases among lower-income households, where cannabis use is also highest."

Screen Shot 2016 12 07 at 9.28.13 AMREUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

As additional states consider legalizing marijuana, beer companies will be at an even greater risk.

"With Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors Brewing Company controlling roughly 70% of the overall beer category in the US, there is clear risk that growing cannabis use will weigh on their businesses," analysts wrote.

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