People will choose legal marijuana over alcohol, U.S. study shows

Many people shift consumption from alcohol to marijuana after marijuana becomes more available, a U.S. study shows. GETTY IMAGES

Medical marijuana becoming available in U.S. states led to a noticeable fall in alcohol sales, a recent study finds.

Researchers looked at retail sales data for beer and wine in the aftermath of states passing laws that legalized medical marijuana, and in counties that bordered on them. Two years after medical marijuana became available, sales had fallen by 13 per cent.

Other attempts to look at the links between alcohol and marijuana had relied on people’s own estimates of their alcohol consumption, which are notoriously unreliable, says Georgia State University economics professor Alberto Chong, one of the study’s authors.

“[Previous] studies tried to answer the question using subjective surveys. We use actual data about sales, which is much better. That’s hard data — we know the exact number of sales per store.”
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WATCH: While addressing plans to move forward with plain packaging for cigarettes, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says the lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol can be applied when cannabis is legalized.
Click to play video: 'Public health lessons from cigarettes can be applied to marijuana: Health Minister'
Public health lessons from cigarettes can be applied to marijuana: Health Minister

While marijuana was only legally available to medical patients in the states they studied, Chong assumes that there is a recreational grey market supplied from medical pot.

“The drop in [alcohol] sales is so huge – it’s like 13 per cent – that there has to be some leakage.”

The research showed that the full reduction in beer and wine sales took two years to completely take effect, though they fell immediately by 9 per cent when medical marijuana was legalized.

The researchers didn’t study sales of spirits due to poor-quality data, Chong said.

If Canadians drink less after marijuana is legalized, it may be a win for public health — Chong calls it a “good news story.”

On the other hand, it may be a disappointment for cash-strapped provinces if new marijuana tax revenue is cancelled out to some extent by a fall in alcohol sales.

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The researchers’ findings support a study published earlier this year by Deloitte, which predicted “a potential for some current beverage alcohol consumers to migrate away from that category and toward marijuana when it becomes legal.”

WATCH: Ottawa agreed to give the provinces 75 per cent of tax revenues when marijuana is legalized next year. 

Click to play video: 'Feds agree to give provinces 75 per cent of pot tax revenues'
Feds agree to give provinces 75 per cent of pot tax revenues

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