Researchers recently sought to determine if there were a correlation between legalization of cannabis and reduced alcohol consumption. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University evaluated retail sales of alcohol for more than 2,000 U.S. counties between the years of 2006 and 2015, in states where medical cannabis was legalized and in states where it was not.
The data was provided from the Neilson Retail Scanner database, which holds records from 90 retail chains nationwide – which the authors of the study said is more reliable than survey data, where individuals tend to overestimate or underestimate their actual consumption rates.
One goal of the study was to determine if access to medical marijuana would lead to reduced alcohol use, as some drinkers may replace alcohol with marijuana, rather than consuming both regularly.
“In economics, however, the overall impression, true or not, is that these two substances substitute each other, while in public health there is no strong perception on the link,” the study explained.
This is important data for many reasons – but most importantly because it shows that when given the choice, people may prefer cannabis over alcohol. Researchers found that after implementing medical marijuana laws, states definitely saw a reduction in alcohol sales – in some cases by as much as 15 percent.
In 2016, data shows that the alcohol industry overall saw a large decline in consumption, by 1.3 percent – a whole percent higher than the 0.3 percent seen year-over-year for the five years prior. This sort of decline is especially evident in states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, where cannabis was legalized for adult consumption within the last five years.
“We find that marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes. … States legalizing medical marijuana use experience significant decreases in the aggregate sale of alcohol, beer and wine. Moreover, the effects are not short-lived, with significant reductions observed up to 24 months after the passage of the law.”
This may be an issue for the alcohol industry – who has previously lobbied against marijuana legalization. One alcohol conglomerate, Constellation Brands, Inc. (the company behind Corona beer, among others), has made their stake with $191 million for a 9.9 percent share of Canadian grower Canopy Growth Corporation, anticipating the country’s soon-to-be-legal cannabis market.
Cannabis has been proven safer than alcohol on more than one occasion. No one has died from a cannabis overdose or consumption, or from cannabis-only impaired driving, for example. So, is it really a terrible thing to see that alcohol sales have declined since medical marijuana has been available?