Legal Cannabis Might Mean Less Drinking 

Does cannabis serve as a substitute for alcohol?


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. Recent 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, 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 was probably related to marijuana legalization, and she predicted that the expansion of cannabis products available from legal sources—which as of January included vapes, edibles, and beverages as well as buds—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 U.S. states where marijuana had been legalized for recreational use were less likely to report binge drinking than college students in other states, after taking into account pre-existing trends and several potential confounding variables. The difference was statistically significant 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.

Prior research, Alley et al. note, has found "a pronounced decrease in marijuana use that coincides with marked increases in alcohol use after minors reach the legal drinking age," which suggests that some young people replace marijuana with alcohol once they are legally allowed to drink. The researchers 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: A Voice From the Grave

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  1. Former Secretary of State and Twice Failed Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton replied, “xknckjfgss feds wlskdf wane zzzz” after consuming her fifth bottle of wine for the evening.

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  2. I enjoy the taste of a good porter, or lager. Same with a good wine or scotch or bourbon. Can stand the taste of pot. Not for me.

  3. Can’t, damn it.

  4. Cannabis is NOT legal. NO state has repealed all the unconstitutional special laws and rules that made marijuana illegal.

    Weed has been deregulated in most states.

    1. Neither is alcohol, or target shooting, or choice of clothes, or building a house.

      What is your pedantic point?

      1. Poor alphabet sock troll.

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  5. This makes sense to me. I was in college when Ohio raised the drinking age from 18 to 21 (went up one year each year)…the students a year behind me smoked a lot more than those of us who were old enough to drink legally….yet an other unintended consequence of government regulation

    1. The faulty assumption by Sullum is that weed is a better vice than alcohol.

      Both have their pros and cons. Drink alcohol and your liver, kidneys, throat, brain, and digestive tract will likely take a hit over decades of alcohol damage. Drinking alcohol can keep you hydrated while you get drunk.

      Weed smells like shit when unburned and burned and then you smell like shit. Smoking affects your lungs, throat, and brain. Weed is cool!

      1. edibles FTW, just be careful with the dosing

        1. Oh yeah, I forgot about edibles.

          Weed tastes like shit.

          1. You don’t taste it in edibles most of the time.

            My favorite method is vaping dry bud, followed by the capsules available in Quebec (and surely other places in Canada). No taste whatsoever (well, the occasional burping up of weed flavor, lol), a very smooth high, and it lasts for about 6 hours.

            I discovered it’s the only way to fly long distances. It dulls the dullness of layovers.

      2. Just a quibble. Alcohol is a diuretic. Unless you’re going all the way down to near-beer, the diuretic effect outpaces the water content of your drink and your body net loses on hydration.

        For the science-minded, Eggleton MG, ‘The diuretic action of alcohol in man’,J Physiol 1942, vol.101, pp.172-191 showed that 1 gram of alcohol increases urine excretion by 10 ml.

      3. Wrong. Your hardon for Sollum is showing.

        Pot does not have to be better than alcohol to be preferable. Motorcycles do not have to be better than cars. Cars do not have to be better than trucks. Sedans do not have to be better than coupes or station wagons or hatchbacks.

        The more choices, the merrier.

        1. And the downsides he is trying to present as equal aren’t even close. Alcohol will give you cancer and encourage risk taking behavior. Pot, even when smoked, has never been linked to cancer, despite the governments best attempts to do so.

      4. Drink alcohol and your liver, kidneys, throat, brain, and digestive tract will likely take a hit over decades of alcohol damage.
        Or over the course of one evening. Alcohol poisoning is a thing, you know.

        Drinking alcohol can keep you hydrated while you get drunk.
        …what? No it doesn’t.

        Weed smells like shit when unburned
        Says you. I think it smells great.

        Smoking affects your lungs, throat, and brain.
        Finally a true statement. Still, the effects of heavy alcohol use are much worse than the effects of heavy weed use. Getting stoned every day isn’t good for you, but to my knowledge it doesn’t give you cirrhosis.

        Cannabis abuse doesn’t have to be harmless in order to be preferable to alcohol abuse.

        1. poor unreason. All those citations just keeping falling off, even with the sock trolls.

          1. If you drink enough in the course of a night, you can get alcohol poisoning and die. It is virtually impossible to smoke enough weed in a night to kill you. If you need citations for that, you’re a fucking moron.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’ll provide the citations for that if you’re actually interested. I’d just like you to admit that you’re a fucking moron first. That’s all.

          2. I’m more concerned with the dangers users pose to others. Drunks are often violent, or if they drive are aggressive and overconfident about their abilities – and I’ve been hearing about how they kill others on the road ever since I was a little kid.

            Pot heads literally stink (like cigarette smokers, but worse – perhaps because they roll their own, often from material of dubious origin), but if you’ve ever been around them, you know they are quite passive. Regulate when and where they can smoke like cigarette-smoking is regulated, and the worst problem others are likely to have with them is their irresponsibility (which is also a problem with drunks, as well as those that are too much into video games, and teenagers in general).

            If someone is going to spend their life in a chemically-altered state, pot is both the least likely to outright kill them, and the least hazard to others.

            1. I have a friend who used to work security at the Omni in Atlanta. Easier crowd: Grateful Dead – a bunch of mellow potheads with some LSD or the like mixed in. Worst crowd (by far): Hank Williams Jr. crowd chugging Jack Daniels and Budweiser.

  6. From the Gospel According to Joe:

    “the smoker you drink, the player you get”

  7. The 21 years limit for pot is meaningless, since it’s the same for alcohol.

  8. I call bullshit. Edible + Sirloin Steak + Scotch is a great combination. I’ve just added weed into the mix. Alcohol is here to stay.

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