New Evidence From Canada and the U.S. Suggests That Legalizing Marijuana Leads to Less Drinking

While the issue is far from settled, a decline in Canadian beer sales and a drop in binge drinking among college students reinforce the case for a substitution effect.


One of the most important issues for people worried about the consequences of marijuana legalization is the extent to which cannabis serves as a substitute for alcohol, which is more dangerous in several significant ways. New evidence from Canada and the United States reinforces the hypothesis that people tend to drink less when marijuana is legally available, although the issue is far from settled.

During 2019, the first full year of legalization in Canada, the volume of beer sold there fell by 3 percent as of last November, the Financial Post reports. That drop was large compared to the annual declines seen in the previous five years, which averaged 0.3 percent. Vivien Azer, an industry analyst quoted by the Post, said the accelerated slide is probably related to marijuana legalization, and she predicted that the expansion of cannabis products available from government-licensed (or government-run) sources, which as of this month include vapes, edibles, and beverages, will "perpetuate this trend."

More rigorous evidence on the relationship between marijuana use and drinking comes from a study reported in the March 2020 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors. Based on nationwide survey data covering a 10-year period, Zoe Alley and two other researchers at Oregon State University found that college students in states where marijuana had been legalized for recreational use were 6 percent less likely to report binge drinking than college students in other states after taking into account pre-existing trends and several potential confounding variables.

In a second analysis that excluded data from the 2017-18 academic year, when there was a sharp drop in binge drinking among college students in states that had legalized marijuana (regardless of whether legalization had just taken effect), the main result was no longer statistically significant for college students in general. But the researchers found a statistically significant 9 percent decline in binge drinking among students 21 or older, the cutoff for legally purchasing marijuana.

This apparent substitution effect, the authors note, is consistent with earlier studies that found "reductions in alcohol consumption (especially binge drinking in young adults) and alcohol related traffic accidents" following the legalization of medical marijuana. A causal connection is plausible in those studies if we assume that some ostensibly medical use is actually recreational (or that some drinking is functionally medical), such that cannabis consumption would displace the use of alcohol. Another possibly relevant consideration, in addition to marijuana's less dramatic impact on driving ability, is that drinking is more apt to happen in public settings, making driving under the influence more likely.

"For students ages 21 years and over, binge drinking decreased following" recreational legalization, Alley et al. conclude. "A prior national study of how marijuana and alcohol use change in the years before and after turning 21 may put the present findings in context: Although substance use generally declines across this age period, there is a pronounced decrease in marijuana use that coincides with marked increases in alcohol use after minors reach the legal drinking age. This suggests that once alcohol is more accessible and its use is no longer prohibited, young adults may substitute an illegal substance (marijuana) with a legal one (alcohol). We speculate that legalizing recreational marijuana use may temper this effect, such that college students over the age of 21 who otherwise would have engaged in binge drinking continue using marijuana instead."

NEXT: California Cities and State Regulators Are Coming for Your Gas-Powered Leaf Blower

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  1. P-R-O-H-I-B-I-T-I-O-N ! What’s that spell? SAFER!

    Bring back Prohibition! Repeal the 21st Amendment!

    1. Hi SQRLSY

  2. And lung cancer rates will go up.

    Jesus. Europeans drink a bunch but dont have the binge drinking issue the USA has. Maybe because in the USA, giving kids a drink here and there to teach them about responsible alcohol intake is taboo. These kids get away from their parents into party schools on other people’s money and drink a fifth of SoCo their first party.

    1. The US, Ireland, and Russia are three countries with the biggest drinking problems. Germany and Israel are two of the lowest. The difference is that the latter have legalized families drinking during meals.

      In the US it’s utterly forbidden, even in the privacy of the home, and any parent to serves wine at dinner and discovered is a pariah. Ireland is a bit different but still a culture where drinking is done *outside* of the home. Russia, of course, is still recovering from communism. They had a three generations where they had to drink just get through.

      1. That is what I have heard as well. Italy doesn’t have a binge drinking problem because kids drink wine at the dinner table at a young age and grow up with a healthier attitude towards alcohol – not as this forbidden fruit that you need to PARTAY and GET LAID, but just as another pleasure in life.

        1. You know dick about Italy.


          “chemjeff radical individualist
          January.7.2020 at 6:07 pm
          When your response consists of an insult, I know I’ve hit the mark”

          So you’re saying I’m the most correct person on this board for over a decade?

        2. I wonder when it becomes OK to show your kids how to smoke weed responsibly around a dinner table.

          1. I watch a lot of HGTV shows. So often people want a wine rack, keg station, brewery, still etc in their (often tiny) homes.
            I long for the days when people want a grow room, giant bong etc.

          2. When it’s brownie night.

          3. Maybe not a dinner table. But the people I knew growing up whose parents tolerated weed smoking within reason, but still expected good performance in school and general decent behavior ended up being pretty responsible about drugs.

          4. I wonder when it becomes OK to show your kids how to smoke weed responsibly around a dinner table.

            When they supply the weed.

    2. No. – The country’s leading researcher of marijuana and lung disease, UCLA’s Dr. Donald Tashkin, conducted investigations over 30 years, initially believing there must be a causal relationship. But he finally concluded that smoking marijuana does NOT cause cancer or ANY other serious disease.

      Tashkin said: “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even some suggestion of a protective effect.”

      If consumers want to avoid even the minor irritation from smoke, they can partake with edibles or by vaporizers.

      1. Yeah, tobacco causes lung cancer in such a significant way because of specific chemicals created when curing and burning tobacco. Smoking anything isn’t great for your lungs, but there is no evidence that cannabis correlates with lung cancer. Some studies even suggest an anti-cancer effect, but a lot more research needs to be done before anyone can say that with much certainty.

        1. Mostly it’s the partial combustion products, consumed frequently over a long time period that are correlated with cancer. Smoking a pack of wood chips would be almost as bad. The components of tobacco are correlated with cancer from chewing tobacco.

      2. Vaporizers rule. I’m also partial to the gel-caps they have in Canada (and probably other places too).

      3. First, the doses of smoke are much different. A marijuana user who wants to keep a job, or a life outside of the couch, will only smoke one or two joints a day. Very few cigarette smokers keep the dose that low. Most smoke several cigarettes a day, and many smoke a pack or more a day. And those heavy smokers are the ones at a high risk of getting lung cancer.

    3. You have any evidence for that claim that lung cancer rates will go up? It might seem intuitively obvious, but it’s wrong.

  3. 9 out of 10 doctors endorse weed, the tenth is sticking with his Lucky Strikes.

  4. So, it looks like Jeff’s guy Krugman might be a pedo?

    1. He was doing research. No wait… hacked IP! Yeah… thata the ticket.

  5. I skimmed through the article at the “more dangerous” link, and the article actually seems to downplay arguments that MJ groups make against alcohol.

  6. ok this is a true story. When one of my kids started Ithaca College in the fall of 2015 we settled him in his dorm and the RA asked to speak to us alone for a minute. The just of what he said to all the new “parents” was if he caught your child with alcohol he has to report it….but if they have pot its a non reportable offense to the administration. I remember telling my wife “college has changed a lot.”

    Then again it was Ithaca College where the president is a convicted sex felon BUT a woke and hence gets to keep her job

  7. Everyone that dies ODing on marijuana can’t drink, duh.

    1. No one has ever died from consuming marijuana in all of recorded history. – That makes it safer than aspirin, caffeine and peanuts!

      1. Pretty sure that was a joke.

        1. I get so tired of people trying to score points on the cheap. – Instead of empty negation, try naming one death ever caused from consuming marijuana.

          1. You’re not saying no one has ever, for example, crashed a car under the influence of weed, are you?

  8. Not only is marijuana far safer than beer, wine, etc., – alcohol is a nasty buzz-kill.

    Booze is so 20th Century!

  9. All sides of all debates concerning marijuana and drinking have lied so often and so long that nothing any of them say can be trusted.

    1. What have any marijuana reformers lied about?

      1. Oh, please. The drumbeat of ‘pot is a wonder drug’ has been going on since I first started paying attention in the 1970’s. So has the ‘legal hemp production will usher in an economic golden age’ drivel. Both sets of claims are wishful thinking at best. Is marijuana good for some medical conditions? Sure. But the claims made for it by the ‘legalize pot’ lobby are roughly as accurate as the ‘marijuana, the weed from hell’ drivel pushed by the Prohibitionists.

        I favor legal marijuana. I’ll go further. I favor marijuana not only legal but as unencumbered by regulation and taxes as mint. But I do so not because I consider marijuana wonderful but because I consider Prohibitionism a ridiculous failure.

        1. For some people cannabis is a wonder drug! Some people reduce or eliminate their opiate use when medicinal cannabis is available for pain, that sounds like a damn good thing! And hemp production is exploding in this country now that it’s been legalized, so that’s solid progress too. You didn’t mention the climate emergency, I’m still looking for good information on how useful hemp can be in reducing global warming. It sure produces an impressive amount of biomass to suck up that bad boy CO2, especially for an annual crop!

  10. Not sure why it’s either the right or the obligation of government to reduce drug use, regardless of the drug. Call me crazy, but I couldn’t care less what other people have in their urine, and I can’t imagine how sick someone has to be to be willing to kill me to find out what’s in mine.

  11. That comports with my experience, at least. I will drink a lot more if I’m not smoking weed.

  12. I’ll all for legalizing everything. I had no idea the increase in doughy-fat losers that full legalization would bring. There are a couple shops near my pad and I’m amazed at the number of people trudging in and out at their lunch break. They don’t look good. Type 2 diabetes central. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. But apparently, half of LA is baked on the daily. I never saw weed as something you should be hitting before or during work. But apparently, waking and baking is the latest California fad.

    1. Weed consumers actually are less likely to be overweight than the general population. The increase of doughy-fat losers was well under way before any leglaization. There is also some evidence to suggest that it increases glucose tolerance, though that needs more good research.

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