Trading in Alcohol for Cannabis? New Study Finds Legal Medical Marijuana Causes a Drop in Alcohol Consumption

The study claims a reduction in the U.S.’s overall alcohol consumption is directly related to expanding medical marijuana laws.

Does legal access to marijuana reduce alcohol drinking? According to a new study, states legalizing the use and possession of medical marijuana are directly associated to falling alcohol sales in the United States.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut, Georgia State University, and Universidad del Pacifico in Lima compared alcohol sales in U.S. states without legalized medical marijuana laws to those with legalized medical marijuana, before and after the laws were implemented.

“States legalizing medical marijuana use experience significant decrease in the aggregate sales of alcohol, beer and wine,” the study concluded.

The researchers analyzed beer, wine and alcohol sales in 90 alcohol chain stores in more than 2,000 U.S. counties over a 10-year period, between 2006 and 2015. They used alcohol sales data from the Nielsen Retail Scanner.

Over the 10-year period, alcohol purchases decreased by 15 percent in counties in states with medical marijuana laws. Counties along state borders had 20 percent lower alcohol sales than those across the border in states without legalized medical marijuana.

“Our findings clearly show that these two substances act as strong substitutes in the marketplace,” said study co-author Alberto Chong, an economics professor at Georgia State University.

They reductions in alcohol consumption following the passing of medical marijuana laws were long-term, lasting up to two years after the passing of the laws.

The drop in alcohol sales in counties where medical marijuana is legal were true even after researchers corrected for demographic and economic factors that are known to have measurable influence on alcohol consumption, such as sex, age, median household income, and unemployment rate.

So What Do The Findings Mean?

The findings of the study indicate that more people are using marijuana as a safer substitute to alcohol, which researchers have found to be one of the deadliest substances. A recent survey found that nearly all Americans agree that alcohol use is more harmful to health than marijuana use.

For cannabis advocates, the fact that access to cannabis reduces alcohol intake is another argument in favor of their argument that legalized and regulated cannabis is more optimal to prohibition.

“This implies that rather than exacerbating the consequences of alcohol consumption—such as an increase in addiction, car accidents or disease risk—legalizing cannabis may temper them,” added Chong.

The study’s results add to a growing body of evidence showing that legal access to cannabis causes a reduction in alcohol intake. More than 1 of 4 adults have already substituted beer for cannabis or plan to do so in the future, while last year a report found that 51 percent of millennials opt for cannabis over beer, wine, and spirits. Canadian researchers found that marijuana’s ability to serve as a safer substitute can potentially even help treat alcohol addiction.

Expanding Marijuana Legalization

The study’s findings also indicate that one could expect the use and sale of alcohol to continue to drop nationwide as more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

As of now, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, and nine have legalized recreational marijuana.

Legalization is expected to continue expanding to new states in 2018. Oklahoma voters will vote on a medical marijuana measure this June.

Efforts are also underway to present voters with marijuana ballot initiatives in Michigan, Missouri and Utah, while New Jersey’s new governor has stated he’s interested in legalizing adult use marijuana as soon as possible.

More to Learn

The entire working paper, “Helping settle the marijuana and alcohol debate: Evidence from scanner data,” is available to read online HERE.

Learn more about medical marijuana and its benefits by visiting our Cannabis 101 page, or keep up-to-date with cannabis industry developments through our news feed.