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The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Chapter 58. Can marijuana replace alcohol? 

Optimists sometimes argue that the increased popularity of marijuana should be welcomed and encouraged, since increased marijuana use means a decline in alcohol consumption and of the evils associated with alcohol drunkenness and alcoholism (see Part IV). Pessimists maintain that far from supplanting the evils of alcohol, the evils of marijuana are simply being added on. 

Most of the data currently available on this point indicate that marijuana smoking tends to replace alcohol drinking, but some contrary indications have recently appeared. Let us first review the optimistic evidence. 

There are no doubt some individuals and some small social groups who give up alcohol altogether after discovering marijuana. Sam Blum supplied details, in the same  New York Times Magazine article 1 cited in Chapter 57. The middle-aged marijuana smoker in the New York area, he notes, is likely to "use marijuana precisely the way he previously used alcohol, and there are now middle-aged circles in which the drinking of liquor has almost disappeared." A forty-year-old financier told Blum over a glass of nonalcoholic mineral water: "Well, I can hardly remember the last time I saw a drink at a dinner party. In fact, I can't remember the last time I had a drink.

"You know, the homes to which I get invited aren't that remarkable. I'd say they're upper-middle-class, typical East Side Manhattan, South Shore folks... but it is a rarity in their homes that I'm not offered pot in beautifully rolled joints."

A housewife in her mid-thirties told Blum: "I'd go to parties and hold one drink all night. I hated the taste of alcohol. And it made me dizzy, and it left me with a hangover. Marijuana was a godsend. It's much milder than liquor and much pleasanter, so I carry my own. When everyone else drinks, I open my cigarette case, pull out a joint; and everyone is very impressed.... But I just smoke enough to get a slight high. I don't really like the super-boo that takes the top of your head off. I just want to feel more relaxed, more in the mood for a party. I love it." 2

In 1968, Professor Alfred R. Lindesmith, Indiana University sociologist, commented: "It is of incidental interest that some pot smokers, both old and young, have developed an aversion to alcohol, regarding it as a debasing and degrading drug, a view which is standard among the Hindus of India where alcohol is strongly taboo for religious reasons. Some of these people were heavy users of alcohol before they tried marijuana and feel that the latter saved them from becoming alcoholics." 3 

Professor John Kaplan of the Stanford University Law School has assembled further evidence on this point in his 1970 study,  Marijuana–– The New Prohibition.

"There is already data," Professor Kaplan points out, "showing that a sizeable percentage of marijuana users... cut down their alcohol consumption on taking up their new drug. Thus, Richard Blum's data shows that 54 percent of the regular (weekly) marijuana-users decreased their alcohol consumption after taking up marijuana, while only two percent increased their alcohol use. With respect to the daily marijuana-users, the difference was even more striking. Here eighty-nine percent of the users had decreased their alcohol consumption. 

This type of data is confirmed from several other sources. Another study at a California college showed that while in the sample marijuana use had climbed from nineteen to forty-three percent between 1967 and 1968, use of alcohol in the "more than once a month" category had fallen from twenty-nine to fourteen percent, while use in the "more than several times a month" category had fallen from seventeen to twelve percent. And one of the most recent surveys, at Stanford University, showed that, at a time in their lives when students typically increase their alcohol consumption significantly, only three percent of the marijuana-users had increased the frequency or quantity of their hard-liquor consumption while thirty-two percent reported a decrease. 4 

Anecdotal evidence tends to confirm these findings. In the  New York Times for August 9, 1970, for example, correspondent Frank J. Prial wrote: 

In some parts of the country, marijuana appears to be making inroads on the sale of liquor. While most tavern owners and liquor salesmen deny that the [marijuana] joint has replaced the [alcohol] jigger, or ever will, there are signs of at least a partial trend around the country toward drugs at the expense of drinks.

A beer distributor in Denver said that 1966 sales at one college tavern were down 27 percent from a 1967 base. They were also down 53 percent at a second place near a campus and 71 percent at a third. 

Then the Denver beer distributor added: "Our retailers say they can tell when a big shipment of marijuana hits town. The [beer] sales go down."

The assistant manager of an alcohol-dispensing discotheque called Evil People, in Miami, Florida, was quoted as saying: "Marijuana spells disaster to the liquor trade. If they ever legalize it, the liquor business is dead." He contended that if his young patrons could buy marijuana legally, they "wouldn't touch liquor." 5 

Professor Kaplan also cites Dr. Seymour Halleck, professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, as the authority for the view that the evils of marijuana are not simply being added to the prior evils of alcohol. Dr. Halleck, after noting in 1968 the rapid increase in marijuana smoking on the Wisconsin and other campuses, made this comment: 

Perhaps the one major positive effect of the drug [marijuana] is to cut down on the use of alcohol. In the last few years it is rare for our student infirmary to encounter a student who has become aggressive, disoriented, or physically ill because of excessive use of alcohol. Alcoholism has almost ceased to [be] a problem on our campuses. 6 

While those reports may have quite accurately described the situation in 1968, 1969, and perhaps even 1970, there is also growing evidence that points in the opposite direction. just as youthful drug users during the 1960s periodically discovered marijuana, LSD, the amphetamines, the barbiturates, and other "new" drugs, so, it seems, they are now discovering yet another strange intoxicant: alcohol-liquor, beer, and wine. (Wine manufacturers responded swiftly, and a burgeoning number of low-cost, exotically labeled wines have become available.) Moreover, marijuana users were said to be drinking the alcoholic beverages  along with smoking the marijuana joints. One survey even suggested that the heaviest marijuana smokers were also the heaviest alcohol drinkers. 7

The moral here is clear. Marijuana can be smoked alone, or it can be smoked along with the drinking of alcohol. The patterns of use-one drug or a mixture of two-is not inherent in their chemical molecules but is determined by a host of legal, social, psychological, and economic factors. A knowledgeable society, noting a few years ago that some of its members were switching from alcohol to a less harmful intoxicant, marijuana, might have encouraged that trend. At the very least, society could have stressed the advantages of cutting down alcohol consumption if you smoke marijuana. But no such effort was made here. It may yet not be too late to present that simple public-health message.


Chapter 58

1. Sam Blum, "Marijuana Clouds the Generation Cap,"  New York Times Magazine, August 23, 1970, pp. 28-30, 45, 48, 55-58.

2. Ibid.

3. Alfred R. Lindesmith, "Student Drug Use Viewed by a Sociologist," Loyola Conference on Student Use and Abuse of Drugs, Montreal, October 31-November 3, 1968; unpublished, p. 43.

4. John Kaplan,  Marijuana--- The New Prohibition (New York and Cleveland: World, 1970), pp. 293-294.

5. New York Times, August 9, 1970.

6. Seymour Halleck, quoted by John Kaplan,  Marijuana, p. 294.

7. Hugh J. Parry, personal communication.

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