Cannabis and Alcohol – Substitute or Complement?
We all know it’s a lot safer to smoke cannabis than it is to drink alcohol. This isn’t a guess nor wishful thinking, it’s a fact. Alcohol is said to be 127 more lethal than cannabis and seeing that tens of thousands of people die each year to alcohol abuse, and a big fat zero attributed to marijuana…it’s safe to say that cannabis is the friendlier of the two drugs.
As the entire country inches towards national cannabis legalization, there is one question that we must ask in relation to these two drugs; are they compliments or supplements?
In other words, if we were to legalize cannabis around the country, will more people begin to substitute cannabis for alcohol or will they complement the two drugs?
This is a good question because while being intoxicated with alcohol by itself can be a dangerous scenario, coupling it with cannabis increases the effects significantly. Stoned and Drunk combined is not an ideal scenario on a massive scale.
Fortunately, the question to whether the two substances are complements or substitutes seems to have been answered in a recently published study.
Alcohol Cannabis Study Explained
A small group of researchers recently published online a study on the issue whether the legalization of cannabis has an effect on the sales of alcohol.
In order to answer the question, they lumped states into counties and compared the alcohol sales in grocery stores, convenience stores and mass distribution stores to states that have legalized cannabis for medical reasons.
Thus, the same county would have a median of consumption pre-legalization and post-legalization. What they found was that on average there was a 15% decrease in alcohol sales post legalization.
We find that marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes. Counties located in MML states reduced monthly alcohol sales by 15 percent, which is a consistent finding across several empirical specifications. When disaggregating by beer and wine we find that legalization of medical marijuana had a negative effect on corresponding sales by as much as 13.8 and 16.2 percent, respectively. – [SOURCE]
In other words, the legalization of cannabis does have an impact on alcohol consumption which essentially is great news.
Why does it matter?
Alcohol is a dangerous drug sold on every corner in America. It is present in 40% of all violent crimes and claims the lives of 80,000+ people each year. It is present in many domestic abuse cases and alcohol dependency is quite high compared to cannabis – which is roughly the same rate of addiction as coffee.
Furthermore, alcohol misuse costs the US roughly $249 billion each year (more or less), meaning that the social cost is staggering.
Seeing that cannabis acts as a substitute and not a complement, this would mean that all of these dismal numbers could be on a decline over the next few years, especially as more states embrace legalization.
It is no wonder then that “Big Booze” is keen on keeping cannabis illegal and why they have spent millions on re-electing prohibitionist-politicians to maintain their monopoly on recreational drugs in the US.
In terms of violence across the country, the legalization of cannabis will have an impact in reducing related events. This is because the side effects of cannabis generally tend to pacify users whereas alcohol tends to make people more “rowdy”.
Additionally, while it is never a good idea to drive under the influence of any substance, driving under the influence of cannabis poses a significantly lower risk in mortality than driving under the influence of alcohol.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to social implications.
Wouldn’t adding another substance increase danger to society?
On the contrary, I personally believe that when you remove the black market activities around any substance (yes, even heroin) you reduce the risk/danger profile of the substance.
For instance, everywhere methadone clinics have been opened, there have been a reduction in crime and disease in the area. This is because under a regulated framework, you can actually control the risk factors whereas leaving it in the obscurity of the black market…there is no possible way.
I for one, know that the path to a tolerant drug society is still a long way to go, however with time and with more data being collected from cannabis legalization…people will eventually begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Our approach to drug policy has been medieval at best. We have tried to sweep drugs under a rug and beat it to death with a hammer only to find that the more we beat it, the bigger it grows. It’s time we remove the taboos of drug use and embrace the fact that conscious human beings will experiment with substances. The only thing we can do about it is make it as safe as possible, provide as much education as possible and generate revenue to be used for the betterment of society as a whole.
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