A new study has found that overall alcohol sales in the United States dropped, and this reduction appears to be directly related to the increasing number of states that have legalized medical cannabis. The study also found that states with medical cannabis laws showed an almost 15-percent drop in monthly alcohol sales.
This joint study was conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut, Storrs; from Georgia State University, Atlanta; and from Universidad del Pacifico, Lima. The research made use of available alcohol sales data from Nielsen Retail Scanner database. The data were collected from 90 alcohol retail stores across more than 2,000 U.S. counties over a 10-year period – from 2006 to 2015.
The researchers believe that interviewing consumers directly does not provide reliable information because people may not be that accurate and truthful about their alcohol drinking habits.
Using the alcohol data, the researchers compared the alcohol sales in states that have not yet legalized medical cannabis and the alcohol sales in legalized states. They also included economic factors (i.e. income) and demographics (race and age) in their study, as these factors also make a measurable impact on alcohol use.
The study concluded that alcohol is a strong substitute for cannabis, and cannabis is a strong substitute for alcohol. The two share an almost similar audience. If this is true, it means that introducing legal cannabis where the consumption of alcohol is legal could result in a negative effect on alcohol sales.
While there are still states that have not yet legalized medical cannabis and while the substance is legally available only to a small percentage of overall cannabis users, the study could be an indicator of the future of the alcohol industry in states that have adopted recreational cannabis laws. It can give people a picture of what the alcohol industry can expect if more people are given legal access to adult-use cannabis.
The study also aims to determine if legalized cannabis promises to replace alcohol use altogether.
Not all research agree
Not all existing research concur that the availability of cannabis reduces alcohol consumption. An analysis in 2016 of 39 reports on this very subject found that 16 of these reports supported the idea that users substitute cannabis for alcohol, while 10 reports suggested that the availability of cannabis actually increased alcohol consumption. The rest of the reports do not support either conclusion.
Rob McMillan, president of the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division, also said in a recent Webinar on the state of the wine industry that they do not believe that legalized cannabis will be a major substitute for using wine. He stated that compared to wine, beer is more likely to suffer decreased sales.
McMillan explained that the main reason he does not support the idea of cannabis negatively affecting alcohol sales, is because wine compliments a meal while cannabis doesn’t.
McMillan does have a point, yet there is something else that must be considered: after smoking weed, a lot of people eat and drink more. So, with that in mind, it is also not hard to envision that instead of reducing alcohol sales, the legalization of recreational cannabis across the country could increase the sales.
Alcohol and cannabis are not the same
Regardless of whether cannabis availability affects alcohol consumption or not, it should be noted that these two are entirely different substances. Many may consider them strong substitutes for each other, but it should not be the case.
Unlike alcohol, cannabis does not have any known fatal dose. Individuals do not die of cannabis poisoning. Compared to weed, alcohol is also more addictive, more closely linked to violence and aggressive behavior, and more likely to cause road accidents. In fact, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use kills close to 90,000 people every year.