Drinking Alcohol and Using Marijuana

Do differing prices or availability of alcohol influence the use of marijuana and other drugs?

Economists note that some products can, at least to some degree, be used to replace one another. In such cases, as the price of one goes up, its consumption drops while consumption of the other less expensive product increases. Similarly, if one becomes less available, its consumption decreases while consumption of the more available product increases. In short, one becomes a substitute for the other.

Two economists at the University of Colorado compared the self-reported use of drugs just before and just after the twenty-first birthday. They found that marijuana use dropped by about 10% when people reached the legal age for drinking alcohol.

The authors suggest that one of the unintended consequences of the age 21 minimum legal drinking age is that it pushes young people into drug use.

Marijuana may also be preferred because it is less likely to be detected than alcohol. A drug counselor and recovering addict, Allison Whitney of Atlanta, says that she got into several crashes as a teenager because of smoking pot while driving. Although she would get pulled over for erratic driving, police would always let her go because she passed breathalyzer tests.

Ms. Whitney says marijuana is especially attractive to teenagers because it's easier to hide than alcohol, a person can get high faster than they can get intoxicated, and parents don't detect marijuana. In addition, nation-wide research has found it easier for young people to buy marijuana than beer because of increased enforcement of laws against the sale of alcoholic beverages to underage persons.

The restricted availability of alcohol to those under the age of 21 may indeed have the unintended affect of making marijuana a more attractive option. And decreasing the availability of alcohol even more could be expected to increase the attractiveness of marijuana.

One alternative is to promote harm reduction to reduce the negative consequences of alcohol abuse among people of any age.


  • Crost, B. and Guerrero, S. The effect of alcohol availability on marijuana use: Evidence from the minimum legal drinking age. Journal of Health Economics, 2012, 31(1), 112-121.

Filed Under: Economics

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