If Weed Replaced Booze, It Wouldn’t Be All That Bad

Published on February 3, 2020

Cannabis has been having its strongest year yet—every year for the past few years. With consumers spending $12.2 billion on cannabis in 2018, the cannabis market has become extremely profitable. Between people starting to discover the potential health benefits from cannabis and states beginning to legalize marijuana, there’s been a market created for cannabis-infused products: a variety of rubs and tinctures, vapes, gummies, chocolate bars, and cannabis-infused beverages. 

In states where marijuana has been legalized, marijuana use has obviously gone up, but what’s interesting is that, according to a report from Science Daily, parallel to cannabis legalization, millennials binge-drinking has actually gone down in those same states. The non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverage market has skyrocketed, as Fortune Business Insights announced that global sales of cannabis-infused beverages reached $174 million in 2018. 

Even U.S. beer giant Lagunitas has decided to enter the California cannabis beverage market (of course, only in a state where recreational marijuana is legal), debuting their cannabis-infused, hoppy sparkling water. Canada has far surpassed the U.S. in terms of marketing these beverages, selling and advertising international brands like Molson and their line of non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused drinks. 

With all of the cannabis industry growth, marijuana legalization in individual states on the rise, and now the decline of binge-drinking in states after recreational marijuana has become legalized, a question comes into play: will marijuana ever replace alcohol? Weed probably won’t catch up to the alcoholic market, at least for years, but, based on the evidence, it wouldn’t be the worst if it did someday. 

Weed Is Safer Than Booze

While there has been an increasing number of people involved in fatal car crashes with marijuana in their system in states where marijuana has been legalized, the numbers don’t compare to the one death involving an alcohol-impaired driver every 50 minutes in the U.S. In addition, marijuana stays in your system for weeks after use, so it’s unclear whether those involved in fatal car crashes were under the influence of the drug at the time of the crash. With alcohol, you can instantly recognize that the car crash was caused by a driver who was under the influence because alcohol doesn’t stay in your bloodstream for more than six hours. 

Besides the significantly smaller number of DUIs originating from marijuana versus alcohol, frequent marijuana use has proven to be overall safer than heavy drinking. On college campuses, alcohol use is still at high levels despite ongoing declines of other illicit drugs and the increase of marijuana use. While legal weed has seen no major dangerous or negative effects on college campuses, a study at the University of Michigan shows that having 10 or more drinks in a row, which is happening for one-in-six college males at least once per two-week period, can result in alcohol poisoning, serious accidents, and a series dangerous behaviors that adversely affect them and those around them.

Marijuana Is Better for Physical—and Mental—Health

Across the globe, alcohol use is the leading cause of death and it’s the leading risk factor for global disease and health loss. On top of those statistics, you’re at a significantly higher risk of becoming addicted to your whiskey habit than your weed habit. 

The more regularly you drink alcohol, the higher your risk of cancer. Cannabis, on the other hand, has yet to be linked to any kind of cancer. Studies have also found a link between alcohol and violent behavior, whereas no studies have shown violence to be an issue with cannabis. 

What’s more, marijuana has become a treatment for chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, and other common health problems. Alcohol, on the other hand, is known to exacerbate psychiatric disorders, as well as cause disorders, including alcoholism itself. 

The Flip Side: A Culture of Booze 

While alcohol sales have definitely stagnated as Americans become increasingly concerned with health and wellness and consumption rates are decreasing, the craft beer sector has been growing, with 8,000 breweries operating across the country last year. There were just 1,500 operational craft breweries in 2007. Not to mention, 28 percent of Millennials drink wine every day and canned craft spirits are growing over 200 percent each year. 

In the U.S., there are over 60,000 bars, taverns, pubs, lounges, and nightclubs, and while that number has been steadily declining over the past 12 years, there are only over 2,100 operational dispensaries. It could take years for weed to catch up to alcohol in this regard. For this reason, you’re probably never going to see a full alcohol wipeout or a complete marijuana sweep of the nation. 

You also cannot ignore the rich history of alcohol and bars that have been around since 1634. Alcohol has positively been around before 1634, but the first record of a bar was in Boston that year. According to History.com, people have been using cannabis since the early 1900s, but medicinal marijuana was legalized in its first state in only 1996. 

Then, think about the drinking culture at sports games and how hard it would be to change Miller Lite sales into Mary Jane sales. Sports go hand-in-hand with alcohol, as 83 percent of people attending U.S. football games enjoy it at stadiums and even 84 percent of people watching on TV are drinking an alcoholic beverage during the game. Across all major sporting events, beer sales in the U.S. exceed $1 billion per year, and we haven’t even talked about sponsorships yet, with the Anheuser-Busch InBev striking an over $1.4 billion deal with the NFL and MillerCoors striking a seven-year, $400 million deal with the NHL.

Professional sports could potentially collapse without alcohol sponsors, and it’s pretty hard to convince a group of students in a college town at a Big Ten University not to go out to the local bars that have been open for years every Thursday through Saturday night regularly. Where else would they hang out? It would take a very long time and a different way of thinking, that’s for sure. 

Also, returning to the topic of physical health, as accessive alcohol intake can be damaging to your liver, inhaling any type of smoke on a regular basis isn’t all that great for your lungs either, and you’re increasing your risk for lung conditions such as respiratory problems and cancer, as well as cardiovascular issues. In order to make your weed consumption less dangerous healthwise, you’ll have to stick to edible methods

You Cannot Deny a Movement 

While we’re definitely in the middle of a cannabis movement, it’s hard to say with confidence yet that the movement will become a culture. It’s going to be tough to convince organizations like the NFL, NHL, and even concert venues that pump serious revenue into our country that they should start selling weed instead of booze, and at this point, the weed industry doesn’t have the money that the alcohol industry has to make those sorts of deals. It’s also going to be a challenge to replace the Old Fashioneds at work and family holiday parties with passing around a marijuana-packed bowl to share with your boss—or your grandpa. 

From a historical and monetary perspective of alcohol, a serious culture change shifting cannabis to the forefront may never, ever happen. We’ll have to wait years down the road and see, but a cannabis culture and a world with less binge-drinking wouldn’t be the worst. After all, it’s hard to argue with safer environments and more health benefits. 

CEO & Founder Erik Huberman is a member of Grit Daily's Leadership Network. He launched Hawke Media in 2014, which is now valued at over $150 million. As a serial entrepreneur and marketing expert, Erik has been recognized by his industry peers through honors and awards including, Forbes Magazine’s 30Under30, CSQ’s 40Under40, and Inc. Magazine’s Top 25 Marketing Influencers.

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