Binge Drinking Goes Down in States with Legalized Marijuana, Data Shows

States that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen a decline in dangerous alcoholic behavior.

A recent report from Wall Street investment firm Cowen & Company has found that rates of binge alcohol drinking have dropped in states with legalized recreational marijuana.

The research found that seven of the nine states that allow adults to legally consume marijuana recreationally experienced 13 percent fewer binge drinking episodes than states without legalized adult use marijuana.

“In legal adult use cannabis states,” wrote the analysts, “the number of binge drinking sessions per month (for states legal through 2016) was -9% below the national average.”

The two marijuana states with higher rates of binge drinking – Nevada and California – were the latest of the nine to implement their adult use marijuana markets. According to the report, Cowen & Company expects “mean reversion for these states, too, given the historical precedent.”

Overall, in states with recreational marijuana, binge drinkers consumed 6.6 alcoholic beverages per binge, compared to 7.4 drinks in non-marijuana states.

Marijuana’s Impact on Alcohol Consumption

Binge drinking is a growing problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people than ever are binge drinking regularly as opposed to occasionally participating in heavy consumption.

Thirty-seven million Americans, or one in every six, identified as a weekly binge drinker in 2015, CDC research shows, consuming 17 billion binge drinks that year. That equates to about 470 binge drinks per identified binge drinker.

Cowen & Company has previously published evidence indicating that marijuana legalization has an impact on alcohol consumption. An analysis report the firm released last year found sales of beer dropped in recreational marijuana states.

In a separate study from earlier this year, medical marijuana legalization was found to be associated with reductions in alcohol consumption.

The shift from alcohol to cannabis is likely related to a shifting attitude, particularly among young adults, regarding the safety of marijuana. More than half of millennials say they will replace alcohol with marijuana. Overall, Americans feel marijuana is safer than tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. More than 1 in 4 beer-drinking Americans have switched to cannabis, according to a separate study last year from Cannabiz Consumer Group, and In Aspen, Colorado, marijuana sales are now surpassing those of alcohol.

marijuana safer than alcohol

“We have consistently argued that cannabis and alcohol are substitute social lubricants,” the Cowen report reads. “To be sure, we do not dispute that alcohol will continue to be quite popular in the U.S. (generating over $210 bn in annual retail sales today). We are, however, focused on the marginal alcohol unit, which given the cannabis category’s much smaller size, creates a sizable opportunity for the cannabis industry.”

Analysts at Cowen & Company expect the marijuana market to continue to grow, further dampening alcohol consumption. Their latest report found that an earlier projection had underestimated the size of the national cannabis market. The firm had previously estimated that the industry would be worth $50 billion by 2026 if the federal government ended prohibition. Cowen & Company now says the industry has already reached that mark, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

As more states legalize marijuana, the report suggests, binge-drinking rates will continue to drop even more.

“Assuming federal legalization, we believe cannabis can generate gross sales of $75 billion by 2030 (and $17.5 billion in tax revenue),” the new report reads. “As cannabis access expands, we expect further pressure on alcohol sales, given this notable divide in consumption patterns.”

More to Learn About Cannabis

As of now, 29 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, and nine plus Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. Marijuana reform is expected to continue expanding to new states, including Oklahoma, where voters will get to vote on a medical marijuana measure this summer.

Learn more about marijuana law by visiting our education page, and keep up with the latest cannabis industry updates through our news feed.