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cannabis vs alcohol

Okay, this is a question I’ve wanted answered for a long time – well, ever since I wrote about how Washington was selling more marijuana products than alcohol. Is this a trend all over the United States? Exactly how many people are bucking decades of alcohol abuse (or not drinking at all) in favor of marijuana? Why have people changed, and what does this say about the future of the marijuana industry and the future of the alcohol industry? I’m going to delve into this topic deeply and share with you what I found today – let’s see if the alcohol industry’s fears are about to be realized.

How Many Americans Drink?

Americans like to drink. But we also like to smoke pot, vape, and even eat some marijuana edibles on occasion – and there are many, many more places that we’ll be able to in the next two years, like California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts, for instance. In the United States, about 87.6% of people over the age of 18 said they drank alcohol at some point during their lives – that could mean they drank in college, or quit drinking when they reached a certain age. 71% drank in the past year, and 56.9% drank in the past month (this is the number I’m sticking with, as I consider once a month or so responsible drinking). That’s over half of all American adults.

How Does Heavy Drinking Affect American Adults?

On the alcoholic tip, about 24.7% admitted to monthly binge drinking, and 6.7% admitted to heavy drinking over the month prior, but that’s a minority of Americans, so I’m not going by those numbers. If you are a heavy drinker or know one, you should know that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) affected 16.3 million U.S. adults in 2014. About 88,000 people die of alcohol-related deaths annually, including 9,967 as a result of drunken driving. It’s heartbreaking really, because these deaths can be prevented. Alcohol issues cost the U.S. $249 billion annually, and over 10% of U.S. kids live with a parent with alcohol problems. Well, that was depressing. There are people that can drink alcohol responsibly, but the side effects of alcohol can certainly impact others’ lives and situations more than marijuana side effects seem to – but that’s just my opinion. I prefer drowsiness, laughter, and late-night runs for salty and sweet snacks to drunk people behind the wheel, flying into unprovoked rages, and becoming physically violent. Okay – those were the alcohol stats, now how about the marijuana stats?

How Many Americans Consume Marijuana?

Since I live in Denver, I feel like just about everyone over the age of 21 consumes marijuana, but I know that’s not really true. I’d say among people under the age of 50 that I know, about half of them are regular or occasional consumers. Confirming my suspicions, Pew Research found that in 2012 almost half (49%) of U.S. residents surveyed by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health said they had tried marijuana, but only 12% admitted to use in the past year. Somehow I think that those statistics skyrocketed between 2012 and the present, don’t you? Well, we would be right – according to Gallup poll results released in August, 2016, the number of U.S. adults currently smoking marijuana was 13% — that’s up nearly twice from 2013’s 7%. Interestingly, though, the number of U.S. adults who say they’ve tried marijuana was down since 2012 to 43% (that’s a 6% drop). I feel like someone should let Jeff Sessions know about that last bit. Of course, with marijuana still being illegal at the Federal level, we have no way of knowing how many people are fudging the truth a bit on national surveys, now do we? Until marijuana is legal at the Federal level, we may never know the complete truth. If you’re out there imbibing in either alcohol or marijuana this weekend, please remember not to drive and to make sure you have safe, reliable transportation home. (Regardless of which you choose, keeping yourself and other people safe should be concern #1.)

And the Winner is…

So – about 43.9% more people drink regularly than consume marijuana regularly, and twice as many people regularly indulge in their marijuana product of choice. Yep, the alcohol industry is still ruling the roost at this point. At least, those are the statistics people admit to. These results might change if more states legalized recreational marijuana, and everyone stateside felt safe revealing their regular medical or recreational marijuana use. Of course, the percentages of people who consume marijuana vary by state and region as well – check out this lovely pink map from The Washington Post. According to the WP (which had obviously hadn’t seen the Gallup poll), San Francisco’s marijuana consumers make up 15% of the population, and that’s the highest rate across the nation. If you live in a western or southern state, you have a higher chance of being a regular marijuana consumer. Just so you know, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) statistician noted that Colorado’s marijuana consumption was high before legalization, and legalization hasn’t really changed the numbers much. The Mile High City was well-named, then, and we will continue to enjoy our marijuana consumption into the future. No matter which you choose, it will be interesting to review the numbers of similar surveys as more and more states legalize recreational and medical cannabis in the coming years.

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