Adult-use Cannabis Legalization in Canada Has Led to Beer Sales Decline

A study conducted in Canada and recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that beer sales have declined since legalization began in 2018. The study involved researchers from the College Pharmacy at the University of Manitoba, School of Pharmacy at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto.

The study, which was published on Feb. 27, shows that beer sales in Canada have dropped significantly. “Canada-wide beer sales fell by 96 hectoliters per 100,000 population immediately after non-medical cannabis legalization and by 4 hectoliters per 100,000 population each month thereafter for an average monthly reduction of 136 hectoliters per 100,000 population post-legalization,” authors wrote. A hectoliter is a unit of measurement frequently used in reference to wine, beer, grain, or other agricultural goods, and is the total of 100 liters (1 liter is approximately 0.26 liquid gallons).

However, researchers also explained that cannabis legalization did not cause any reduction in spirit sales (which covers whisky, rum, gin, tequila, liqueurs, and vodka).

Additionally, researchers believe that cannabis use could potentially lead to higher alcohol use in some people, specifically “those with greater sensation-seeking behaviors.” However, they also wrote that some consumers are substituting cannabis in the place of alcohol. 

Data on beer and spirits sales in Canada were taken from the Beer Canada and Spirits Canada resources. Beer Canada provided details about approximately 90% of total Canadian beer sales, while Spirits Canada showed sales in relation to whisky, rum, gin, tequila, liqueurs, and vodka but did not include ready-to-drink cocktails. Beer sales were reviewed between January 2012-February 2020, and spirits sales were examined between January 2016-February 2020.

The study reviewed results in all Canadian provinces. In Manitoba and Ontario, researchers saw the most significant decline in beer sales, while cannabis did not affect beer sales in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Provinces referred to as Western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) “saw the largest reductions in average monthly beer sales which ranged between 228 and 505 hectoliters per 100,000 population over the post-legalization study period.” In Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island), there was “no significant immediate or lagged impact of cannabis legalization on beer sales.”

Researchers called this study the “first quasi-experimental evidence” on the shift in beer and spirits sales in Canada after the launch of adult-use cannabis, with three key points. “First, Canada-wide beer sales dropped after the legalization, but there was no change in spirits sales,” researchers wrote. “Second, the reductions in beer sales were seen in all except the Atlantic provinces with the four Western provinces experiencing relatively larger declines than the Central provinces. Third, the legalization was associated with a decline in canned and kegged beer sales, but we found no reduction in sales of bottled beer.”

Furthermore, the study asserts that consumers aren’t using alcohol and cannabis together. “While increased use of cannabis is not necessarily harmless and further research is needed to understand the health effects of the switch from alcohol to cannabis, the reduction in beer sales associated with the non-medical cannabis legalization suggests that individuals are likely not using alcohol and cannabis concurrently,” authors stated.

In the study conclusion, researchers summed up their most important findings. “We found that non-medical cannabis legalization was associated with an immediate decline in beer sales,” they stated. “Furthermore, beer sales continued to decline in the post-legalization period, suggesting that individuals are moving away from beer towards legal cannabis. These declines in beer sales were most pronounced in the four Western provinces. Meanwhile, we found no change in spirits sales following the legalization.”

Many people have found that substituting alcohol for cannabis is beneficial across the board. 

Celebrities such as Hulk Hogan shared in August 2023 that he swapped both opioids and alcohol for CBD. “At first, I was confused because I’d never used CBD,” Hogan said. “I didn’t understand the health aspects of what it can do for you as far as energy, sleep or getting off hard drugs or pharmaceuticals slowly and winding down are concerned. It took me a while to figure it out because I am a little slow. I had to do a lot of research and do my due diligence. I figured this was something that really would benefit a lot of people that needed help—and I know it will.”

Many other studies, such as one published in the journal Alcohol in November 2023, shows that abstaining from alcohol consumption can undo the effects of cortical thinning in the human brain. Other studies have explored how cannabis states have helped reduce consumption of both tobacco as well as alcohol.

Some states view cannabis as different than alcohol, so much that last December in Connecticut, alcohol sales were not legally allowed to be sold on Christmas and New Year’s Day, but cannabis was.

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