A new study has revealed that states with legalized medical marijuana markets have experienced a considerable drop in alcohol consumption.

The bright people over at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies (a part of University) are settling the score over an important debate that has policy implications for marijuana and alcohol. The debate is about whether marijuana legalization complements alcohol consumption, that is, does marijuana consumption increase alcohol consumption?

Or is marijuana a substitute for alcohol, leading to a decrease in alcohol consumption?

Here’s what the research finds.

States With Legal Marijuana Sales Experience a Drop in Alcohol Consumption

cannabis culture - Cloud Nine

The report is based on data for retail sales of beer and wine in states that recently legalized medical marijuana. The results of the study found that sales for alcoholic beverages dropped by 13%.

The conclusion of the 32-page report finds:

…that marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes. Counties located in MML states reduced monthly alcohol sales by 13 percent, which is a consistent finding across several empirical specifications. In fact, when we focus our analysis to bordering counties only, we find that those in MML have lower a reduction in monthly aggregate alcohol sales of 20 percent, with comparable results for beer and wine.

Researchers focused on counties within legalized medical marijuana states. They found that these counties experienced an overall drop in alcohol sales. Retail sales for beer and wine in these counties dropped at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores.

Furthermore, the researchers found that counties with legalized medical marijuana that bordered counties without legalized medical marijuana experienced an even greater drop in marijuana sales — a 20% overall decrease.

alcohol vs marijuana - Cloud Nine

Alcohol and Marijuana – not exactly drinking buddies

As the national debate about marijuana continues, the study provides some important data for policymakers to interpret.

The original study sought to establish a link between drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. And to identify if this relationship was complementary or substitutionary. That is, do the two drugs complement each other, or can you substitute one for another?

The conclusion is that “marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes.” People purchase less alcohol when there is legal marijuana available. The report reads: 

Whereas complementarity would indicate that legalizing marijuana may exacerbate the health and social consequences of alcohol consumption for instance, in the form increased traffic injuries and fatalities, substitutability, which is what we find, may help allay such concerns and help focus on the positive first-order
impacts of pursuing cannabis legalization.



Marijuana — the healthier choice?

These findings show that marijuana doesn’t lead to more alcohol consumption, which could be worrisome for policymakers. The fact that marijuana leads to less consumption of a far more destructive substance is good news for legalization advocates.

If people find that marijuana is a substitute for alcohol, then that’s a good thing. Studies show that alcohol causes 88,000 deaths annually in the United States in addition to costing $249 billion annually for misuse.

If studies like this are any indication of the future, it’s that legalized marijuana leads to less consumption of dangerous drugs like alcohol or opioids. Not more.

As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, there will be more studies testing the relationship between marijuana and other drugs. 

If you want to learn more about how responsible marijuana use can be a healthier alternative, take a look at our article How Marijuana Helps with December Stress.

What about you? Do you find the decrease in alcohol sales in medical marijuana states surprising? Let us know in the comments below!