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Medical Cannabis Legalization Leads to a Reduction in Alcohol Sales

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

December 7, 2022

iStock

The legalization of regulated medical marijuana sales leads to a significant reduction in sales of alcohol, according to the results of a recent study conducted by Canadian researchers. The study, titled “Relationships between sales of legal medical cannabis and alcohol in Canada,” was published last month by the peer-reviewed journal Health Policy.

The research was led by Michael J. Armstrong, a business professor at Brock University in Ontario,

. To conduct the study, researchers compared regulated sales of medicinal cannabis with sales of beer, wine and liquor in Canada from 2015 to 2018. To make a more relevant comparison, the study adjusted for factors including differences in alcohol prices, retail spending, unemployment rates and the penalties for impaired driving.

The study found a “significant negative association” between regulated medicinal cannabis sales and alcohol sales and determined that sales of alcohol were nearly two percent less than they would have been without the availability of legal medical marijuana.

“The analysis estimated that each dollar of legal medical cannabis sold was associated with an average alcohol sales decrease of roughly $0.74 to $0.84,”

in an abstract of the research. “This suggests that medical cannabis was an economic substitute for alcohol in Canada, and that the country’s 2017–2018 alcohol sales were roughly 1.8% lower than they would have been without legal medical cannabis.”

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Association Not Necessarily Causation of Alcohol Sales Data

Armstrong said that the findings of the research suggest that medical cannabis use replaced some alcohol consumption. But he cautioned that the association between alcohol sales and medical cannabis sales did not necessarily imply causation. The researcher also noted that reduced alcohol consumption could at least partially offset the potential harms and benefits of cannabis use.

“For example, increased cannabis-related health problems might come with decreased alcohol-related ones,”

MJBizDaily via email. “And governments’ new cannabis tax income might be offset by lower alcohol tax revenues.”

The authors of the study note that research into a possible association between cannabis use and alcohol use has been conducted with mixed results for decades. One study published earlier this year by a team of researchers at the University of Washington in cooperation with the Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division found that after a state decriminalizes the recreational use of marijuana, the use of alcohol, cigarette smoking and the abuse of pain medications by young people decreases.

The study, which was published by The Journal of Adolescent Health, found that the availability of regulated adult-use cannabis was associated with a decrease in the consumption of multiple commonly used substances.

“We document substitution between legal cannabis products and alcohol and tobacco products using detailed administrative and scanner data from Washington State,”

. “We estimate a flexible demand system for legal substances and find legalizing cannabis leads to a 15 percent decrease in alcohol, mainly by liquor and wine, and 5 percent decrease in cigarette demand. Approximately 40 percent of Washington’s 2015 cannabis revenue was cannibalized from preexisting sources.”

The researchers noted that their study contradicted fears that the legalization of recreational cannabis would be accompanied by a spike in overall substance use and recommended further investigation into the association between liberalizing cannabis policy and substance use trends.

“Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized nonmedical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse,”

in a discussion of the research. “The weakening association of cannabis use with the use of other substances among individuals ages 21–25 requires further research but may suggest increased importance of cannabis-specific prevention and treatment efforts.”

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
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