Study shows that students living in cannabis-friendly states binge drink less

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Cannabis legalization may have had a positive effect on binge drinking, according to a new study. Researchers at Oregon State University carried out the study, which concluded that there was a six percent decrease in the likelihood of binge drinking among students aged 21 and above who reside in cannabis-friendly states.

“The biggest takeaway from our paper is that problem binge drinking in college students who are 21 and over, changes after the implementation of recreational [cannabis] use,” said Ph.D student and study author Zoe Alley.

According to the researchers, binge drinking is defined as someone who has enjoyed five or more drinks in a single session during a two-week period. Since the minimum age for drinking in the U.S. is 21, binge drinking was not observed in students below the legal age.

“Once you turn 21 in states without [cannabis] legalization, alcohol suddenly becomes very easy to come by, relatively speaking, so people might switch to that,” says psychology professor at OSU, David Kerr.

Alcohol is more widely available for young adults than cannabis

In states where cannabis has been prohibited, the process of obtaining alcohol is much easier for individuals aged 21 and above; 21 is the legal drinking age in the U.S. Since alcohol is more widely accepted than cannabis – what with the legal weed industry still in its nascent stages – OSU researchers say that it is easier for youths to binge drink. 

“When you reach the legal drinking age, suddenly a lot of people transition to using more alcohol, because now it’s more available and [cannabis] is not,” Alley says. “When you change that, so that [cannabis] is legal, we might see less of a substitution.”

In states that offer equal access to legal weed and alcohol, the researchers say that less people turn to alcohol for social enjoyment. This indicates that legalization may help to curb binge drinking.

The effects of cannabis legalization on alcohol sales

Analysts predict that as much as $22 billion could be reaped by the adult-use segment of the U.S. cannabis industry on an annual basis. However, the growth of legal weed has not been well received by alcohol suppliers. 

A report titled, “the Asymmetric Effects of Recreational Cannabis Legalization,” that was published in INFORMS journal Marketing Science suggests that the alcohol market may be negatively impacted by the budding recreational cannabis industry that has – so far – swept across 11 U.S. states.

“It appears the alcohol industry has valid reason to be concerned about legal [cannabis] and may need creative strategies to avoid market decline if it passes,” said assistant professor at UOG’s Terry College of Business, Pengyuan Wang.

Based on the study’s findings, an 11 percent reduction in online searches for alcohol was observed post-legalization. Searches for tobacco products, on the other hand, climbed eight percent. Wang concluded that “tobacco companies may need to reexamine their presumption, and that anti-cannabis legalization is not to the best of their interest.”

Merged, the alcohol and tobacco industries are valued at $300 billion. In spite of concerns that legal weed may hinder alcohol sales, a study by the Distilled Spirits Council confirmed that in the three-largest cannabis-friendly states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington state – sales of distilled spirits have not been affected. Data was analyzed two years before legalization, as well as 3-4 years post-legalization.

“Simply put, the data shows there has been no impact on spirits sales from recreational marijuana legalization,” concluded the DSC’s chief economist, David Ozgo.