How Medical Marijuana Legalization Impacts Alcohol Sales

By Beth Leipholtz 01/17/18

A recent study suggests that a growing number of people in states where medical marijuana is legal are choosing pot over alcohol. 

an illustrated marijuana leaf and glass of beer being weighed on a scale

According to a study by researchers at the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University, the legalization of medical marijuana in some U.S. states has led some consumers to choose marijuana over alcohol. 

In order to come to this conclusion, researchers studied the sales of alcoholic beverages in 2,000 counties over a nine-year period, from 2006 to 2015. In the states where medical marijuana was legalized—of which there were 29 at the end of 2017—it was discovered that alcohol sales decreased by 13%. 

According to the study, these results add to the conversation regarding the relationship between alcohol and marijuana. 

The study's authors also claim that the findings “address concerns about the potential spillover effects of medical marijuana laws on use of other substances that might contribute to negative health and social outcomes as the relationship between these substances is an important public health issue.”

Professionals in the medical marijuana field weren’t necessarily surprised by the study’s findings. As someone who certifies patients for medical marijuana use, Michelle Alexander, program director at MJ Consulting LLC in Prescott Valley, Arizona, says many patients admit they use marijuana in place of alcohol. 

“I would dare say as much as 60% are using marijuana to reduce and eliminate alcohol,” Alexander told the Daily Miner. “It’s pretty easy for people to swap one out for the other because one makes them feel well and the other one is going to really make them hurt when they wake up the next day.”

Alexander’s claims are accurate. According to the Washington Post, marijuana use is less dangerous than alcohol use, though many factors come into play. While marijuana use may come with fewer risks than alcohol, it does lead to addiction in some cases.

According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 30% of people who use marijuana may have some degree of "marijuana use disorder." Recent data also suggests that 9% of those who use marijuana will become dependent on it and the number rises to 17% if the person begins using it before the age of 18. 

Overall, marijuana use isn’t proven as likely to impair a person as alcohol is when it comes to tasks such as driving. Marijuana use also does not have a strong link to physical aggression, whereas alcohol consumption does.  

Body toxicity is also less affected by marijuana use. The Washington Post states, “Marijuana is also considerably less toxic to the human body than alcohol. Compared to marijuana, there's a much smaller difference between a ‘recreational dose’ of alcohol and a ‘fatal dose.’ If, say, five shots gets you drunk, 15 could kill you. With pot, on the other hand, there's currently no known fatal dosage level—at least not any that a human being could reasonably consume in one sitting.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 88,000 deaths per year include alcohol as a factor. Half that number is due to binge drinking. In contrast, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not currently cite any deaths as being due to marijuana overdoses. 

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.