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I had only been on the ground in Portland for five minutes before I stumbled across my first brewery. It was 10am so I kept walking. It was not like finding a brewery in Oregon was a taxing exercise. State excise relief, strong domestic consumption and homegrown hops has led to an explosion of micro and independent breweries in the Beaver state. Upwards of 200 independent breweries now operate in Portland, Eugene and rural Oregon.

The wind and rain that had battered the North-east of the United States had eased as I left my downtown hotel and wandered across the SE Morrison bridge towards Southeast Division. I had been told this was one of the North America’s most vibrant neighbourhoods and I wasn’t disappointed.

Breweries, coffee roasters and furniture workshops dotted the tree lined residential streets as I day-walked happily through hipster nirvana. In need of caffeine but confused by the array of choices on offer I wandered on. I have always found Americans friendly but this morning the residence of Portland were taking it to a new level. Carpenters, baristas, dog-walkers and joggers wished me a hearty good morning as I zig-zagged in the general direction of the legendary Pok Pok Thai restaurant.

When I reached SouthEast Division itself the residential homes became scarce. In their place yoga studios, breweries, wellness centres, distilleries, cafes and marijuana retailers took their place. I blew my cover as a tourist when I paused for too long outside ‘Portland Extracts’ a ‘pot’ shop a few hundred metres west of Pok Pok.

On 1 July 2015 Oregon joined Colorado, Washington State, Alaska and District of Columbia in legalising the recreational use of marijuana. At the time the Huffington Post cited three immediate benefits to the local economy; reduced crime through black market suppliers, a freeing up of Policing and Court resources and tax revenue. The Huffington Post estimated annual cannabis tax revenue would reach $800 million in Colorado and Washington State alone in 2016.

It’s no wonder that in November California, Massachusetts and Nevada joined the cannabis club. Soon over 20% of Americans will live in States and Districts where recreational use is legal. Under President Obama the Federal government has turned a blind eye allowing Americans and the State legislatures they elect the right to decide for themselves. Maybe President elect Donald Trump will try and take a more active role in enforcing federal law. With an independent California movement gaining traction and protests continuing in Portland the former owner of Miss Universe might well decide to let the people decide the winner of the cannabis debate.

In Canada, new hipster Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone ever further. After a campaigning on a legalise cannabis agenda recreational use will be fully legalised across Canada in July 2017.
I’ll leave it up to others to discuss the rights and wrongs of cannabis legalisation. Maybe the North American experiment will fail and prohibition will return. Somehow I doubt it. It’s hard to see a cash-strapped State government giving up $800 million in tax revenue. Already that revenue is funding education campaigns warning young people about the harmful effects of cannabis use on cognitive development.

While legalising medicinal marijuana let alone recreational use seems a long way off in New Zealand would anyone really be surprised if ‘Portland Extract’s’ had a shop in Cuba Street or K’ Road in ten years’ time?

In the meantime, the brewing industry in North America is getting their heads around what legal recreational cannabis means to production and sales. Early anecdotal evidence suggests beer consumption has dropped in states where cannabis is legal but this has been off-set by a growth in tourism.

Opportunities also exist. In Canada, a new regulatory framework is being put in place to support legalised cannabis. The alcohol industry should take these opportunities to push for a review of its own regulatory framework to ensure it supports moderation and responsible consumption rather than merely punishing excessive and anti-social behaviour.

If the cannabis revolution arrives in New Zealand this opportunity will present itself to our industry and we need to be ready to take it.

After a few moments of contemplation, I wandered out of the ‘Portland Extracts’ car park, side-stepped a group of yoga Mums and took up residence at the bamboo-thatched bar at Pok Pok. While the locals openly discussed their favourite cannabis blends I enjoyed a local APA. A second arrived as did a hot Thai green curry. It was the perfect way to start an afternoon of brewery hopping. Maybe next time I’ll ‘pot-hop’ through the SouthEast Division but for now I’ll stick to the hops.