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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Study: Cannabis use rises while strong alcohol use drops

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By Linda Ball EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

Studies are showing that in states that allow legal adult use of cannabis, binge drinking of alcohol is decreasing.

This is good news, at least from a health perspective, since binge drinking can have fatal consequences, most notably on college campuses. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more for women in a span of around two hours.

As of January, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis while 11 states and Washington D.C., allow for recreational use among adults 21 and older.

In a recent study from Oregon State University, the National College Health Assessment survey asked students to report on lifestyle actions and substance use including nicotine, binge drinking, illegal drugs, and use/misuse of prescription opioids, stimulants and sedatives. The study found that increased cannabis use had only a minor impact on other consumption choices with the exceptions being alcohol and sedatives.

The NCHA study also reported that in states with legal recreational cannabis, there was a greater reduction in binge drinking among students 21 and over, compared with similar age peers in other states.

This figure concurred with similar findings, including a 2018 report in Forbes that indicated that binge drinking was on the decline in states that have legalized recreational cannabis.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also has published data that suggests that binge drinking isn’t just reserved for college-age people, but all ages of adults collectively sucked down 17 billion alcoholic beverages in 2015.

Research from financial services firm Cowen, Inc. also reported binge drinking on the decline in states that have legal marijuana marketplaces. Specifically, in Washington and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational/adult-use cannabis, binge drinking is less prominent.

The analysts said that in legal recreational cannabis states, reported binge drinking sessions per month were -9 percent lower than the national average. The report also stated that people with access to legal marijuana are less eager to spend either all or a portion of their budget on more alcohol, opting instead to spend it on what many considered a safer alternative, and that drinkers in “non-cannabis states average 7.4 drinks per binge, 12 percent higher than the 6.6 drinks per binge seen in adult-use cannabis states.”

However, a study by the Distilled Spirits Council on the impact of retail marijuana on alcohol sales in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, said that there is no evidence that legalization has had any impact on alcohol sales. The study said that spirit sales were up across the board – up 7.6 percent in Colorado, 5.4 percent in Washington and 3.6 percent in Oregon. Beer sales declined -3.6 percent in Colorado, -2.3 percent in Washington and -3.6 percent in Oregon. Wine sales were up 3.2 percent in Colorado, down -3.1 percent in Washington and up 0.7 percent in Oregon. All told, in these three legal-use states, total alcoholic beverage sales were up 1.7 percent in Colorado, down -0.2 percent in Washington and down -0.5 percent in Oregon.

Cowen predicted that as more states move into legalization on the medical or adult-use sides, binge drinking should drop even more, noting that beer sales are already declining nationally.

Linda Ball is a freelance journalist based in Washington State. Over 18 years, she has covered a wide variety of topics including environmental issues, city hall, arts and entertainment, education, human interest stories and now the rapidly-changing cannabis industry.