Cannabis is Here to Stay: Consumers Are Choosing Marijuana Over Alcohol

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Cannabis consumers are choosing to smoke marijuana rather than drink alcohol.

Written by: Marissa Black-Smith

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Consumers across the world are beginning to show a preference for cannabis over alcohol as penalization and stigmatization lessen internationally. The choice is often based on health awareness. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a staggering 93,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year, despite decades of research pointing to the health risks of alcohol. Likewise, the CDC reports tobacco is still the national leading preventable cause of death, claiming nearly half a million lives annually. By contrast, the words “cannabis” or “marijuana” can’t be found at all on the CDC page devoted to Overdose Death Rates

See the proof outlined below that consumers worldwide are beginning to choose cannabis over alcohol, as well as advice any business — not just cannabiz — should heed as consumption is normalized.

Cannabis was displacing alcohol even before COVID-19:

You’re likely aware that average monthly spending on cannabis surged with the onset of pandemic-induced lockdowns. However, perhaps you missed in early 2020 the other big cannabis trend of the year: that a large share of the alcohol industry had been disrupted by cannabis, particularly among millennials. Statistics from illustrate that the 25-34-year-old age group causes the most alcohol-impaired fatalities on the road, indicating a high level of risk related to alcohol consumption, particularly for young men.

Shifting into the era of COVID-19, this trend was accelerated. A Harris Poll published in December found a whopping 45 percent of respondents have reduced or replaced their alcohol consumption with cannabis since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Also of interest among the poll’s findings was that 57 percent of parents said they had used cannabis to reduce or replace their alcohol use. Let’s see how this trend applies to the consumption habits of other demographic market segments.

Across international generations of consumers, cannabis is a preferable alternative to alcohol:

Millennials are regularly credited with being more generally conscientious than preceding generations, particularly concerning health and the environment. It’s no surprise then to see the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs’ findings that EU youth are drinking less and swapping tobacco for cannabis. What is more surprising are the results of an American study published in Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry which found that teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 25 were more likely to increase their use of alcohol when abstaining from cannabis. We can see from these studies a supplanting of alcohol and tobacco with cannabis and a clear preference for the plant among youth. 

On the other end of the generational arc lay the needs of veterans, who are often of an older peer group. Veterans are certainly interested in cannabis: A study from 2019 indicates 75 percent of military veterans say they’d consider using either “cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option.” 

Just like with the millennial demographic, studies have suggested veteran’s use of cannabis helps drive other substance use lower. A small 2019 study demonstrated that veterans often substitute medical cannabis for alcohol and other controlled substances. This is consistent with the findings of a recent University of Victoria study which found 44 percent of Canadian medical cannabis patients had reduced their alcohol intake since enrollment. When given the opportunity, consumers are consistently choosing cannabis over other substances across generations and national borders.

This change should be embraced: 

As the U.S. launches into a period of new, federally sanctioned research with the passage of the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act in December, it’s likely that cannabis will continue to be a regular choice for many Americans. Already, consumers benefit from no hangover, no caloric intake, and less social stigma all the time when partaking in cannabis consumption.

Despite clear consumer movement, some businesses remain resolute in their treatment of cannabis as a dangerous substance. Take for example this recent stymying headline: Why Is Twitter Flagging Searches for Marijuana (And Not Alcohol or Tobacco)? Considering the comparative fatality rates of alcohol or tobacco to cannabis, the intention is misdirected. Perhaps a flag on the items that cause millions of deaths worldwide would be more appropriate.

Businesses of all kinds need to begin angling toward a greener future. Alcohol may eventually be eclipsed by cannabis in the U.S. market and is estimated to have already done so sales-wise in Canada in 2020. The CDC estimates 22.2 million smokers are already choosing cannabis in the U.S. each month. Therefore, enterprising businesses must angle away from stigma in their treatment of cannabis and its consumers in this rapidly growing market sector. 

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