WASHINGTON: As the legalization of recreational marijuana gains momentum across the United States with public support at an all-time high, many advocates eagerly await to see what effect legalization will have on big alcohol. Will it be forced to fight for market share? Or is alcohol so heavily ingrained in our society that pot legalization will barely create a ripple with booze consumption remaining unaffected?
In the cannabis reform movement, it is an article of faith that the more pot is legally accessible, the less booze will be consumed, but is there evidence to support that theory? The answer to the overall question likely depends on how cannabis and alcohol interact in our culture, that is, whether pot will complement booze and vice versa or whether people will choose pot as an alternative to drinking.
As Forbes explains, if the two substances are complements, then states legalizing marijuana would expect to see more consumption on both sides, which may increase competition and likely exacerbate pre-existing health concerns about over-consumption of alcohol, particularly in this era of mixing red bull and other highly caffeinated drinks with booze. However, if pot truly becomes a substitute for alcohol, than legalizing marijuana may reduce alcohol consumption.
According to economists, D. Mark Anderson and Daniel Rees, co-authors of the most recent research on this topic published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, marijuana and alcohol are substitutes rather than complementary substances.
The co-authors cite a number of prior studies ranging from 2001-2013, which illustrate that as marijuana becomes more readily available, adults respond by drinking less, not more, with pot legalization associated with a reduction in heavy drinking amongst 18 to 29-year-olds and a five percent decrease in beer sales.