Trends in Alcohol Purchases Mixed Following States’ Enactment of Marijuana Legalization

Minneapolis, MN: Trends in alcohol sales are inconsistent following the enactment of statewide marijuana legalization laws, according to data published in the Journal of Cannabis Research.

A pair of researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota assessed trends in households’ alcohol purchases in marijuana legalization states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) compared to control states.

In two states – Colorado and Oregon – alcohol purchased decreased compared to control states. In Washington, sales of spirits increased compared to control states.

“Results suggest that alcohol and cannabis are not clearly substitutes nor complements to one-another,” authors concluded. They added: “Alcohol may substitute or complement cannabis depending on subgroup characteristics, including any history of substance abuse or age. … As cannabis becomes legalized and more widely available across the USA, there is a greater need to understand any unintentional consequences these policy changes may have for alcohol-related harms and public health problems more broadly.”

Numerous studies have sought to resolve whether cannabis and alcohol are more likely to act as substitutes or as complements. A 2020 review of the relevant literature identified 30 studies finding that cannabis acted as a substitute for alcohol and 17 studies finding that the two substances act as complements. Authors of the study concluded, “We identified stronger support for substitution than complementarity, though evidence indicates different effects in different populations and to some extent across different study designs.”

Most recently, data published in January in the journal Addiction reported that heavy drinkers significantly reduced their alcohol intake on days when they used cannabis.

Full text of the study, “Recreational cannabis legalization and alcohol purchasing: A difference-in-difference analysis,” appears in the Journal of Cannabis Research.