The Effects of Legalization on Alcohol Consumption

The “green rush” is stirring up business as usual

The powerhouse industry of alcohol has their only true rival in over a century, possibly ever. This disrupter is a little calmer, a little more docile, perhaps a little gigglier; but causes quite the disturbance to the former heavyweight. Legalization of cannabis has had a direct impact on alcohol’s prominence, causing sales to take a dip. In states that have legalized medicinal cannabis, alcohol sales have dropped over 15 per cent monthly, with recreational legalization expected to take an even bigger chunk. Alcohol giants are aggressively pursuing deals with Licensed Producers to ensure they don’t suffer massive market losses.

Public Perception

The public has transitioned from praising libations to accepting the harsh realities of irresponsible alcohol consumption. Consumers are under no illusion that alcohol is the safest choice at the party. Currently most research on the matter comes from the states, as we are still very much in the infancy of legalization. In a recent study, only 16 per cent of respondents believed cannabis to be harmful, which was less than alcohol (27 per cent), sugar (23 per cent) and saturated fat (33 per cent). Pretty astounding that saturated fats are acknowledged by almost double the respondents as more harmful.

Effects on public safety

In Canada, there were approximately 77,000 hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol in 2015- 2016, compared to 75,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks in the same year. The most recent comprehensive cost study (*Recent as in 2002, but it’s still the best numbers on the matter)estimated the total cost of alcohol-related harm to Canadians to be $14.6 billion per year. This figure includes the following annual costs:

  • $7.1 billion in lost productivity due to disability and premature death
  • $3.3 billion for direct health care costs
  • $3.1 billion for direct enforcement costs

Numbers for cannabis hospitalizations nation-wide are unclear. Reports have acknowledged that in Alberta, trips to the emergency room have doubled due to cannabis overconsumption, though that number sits at about 800 people. In Alberta, hospitalizations relating 100% to alcohol sit at around 14,000, as of 2016.

It’s important to note that many experts are calling for proper language of cannabis “overdose”, as overdose is not a fully accurate term. The term is accurate to the extent that it means using too much. However, the public associates the term overdose with fatalities or the possibility of death. The dosage necessary for a fatal cannabis overdose is beyond the realm of likelihood by any available methods. Cannabis has not caused a single death due to acute intoxication as a result of these constraints.

Not one recorded death, anywhere in the world, is attributed to the sole use of cannabis. Many are calling overconsumption “cannabis poisoning”, as the results are not ideal, though pose no lethal threat. It’s no wonder people are starting to shift their consumption from alcohol to other options.

A shift in drinking habits

Another positive effect on alcohol consumption, as a result of cannabis legalization, is the reduction in binge drinking. “In legal adult use cannabis states”, Forbes states, “the number binge drinking sessions per month (for States legal through 2016) was -9% below the national average.”

A health-conscious approach

Beyond the public safety benefits of reduced alcohol intake, cannabis seems to be drawing in a more health-conscious crowd. This community is shying away from alcoholic beverages due to their caloric intake and lingering, debilitating effects aka. the dreaded hangover. As stated in Forbes, “By all accounts, pot is already set up to become the alternative for those consumers who want the buzz without the bulge.”

Don’t get us wrong, we love to indulge in some adult beverages ourselves, but it’s an exciting time to see industry shifting.  Especially when there are a tangible social benefits and the stigmas which surround cannabis are finally being deconstructed.