Pot, booze and fake news

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Pot over booze — the young folks have spoken.
Composite by Susan France

The story was a real attention-grabber.

It said a study done earlier this year found that 51 percent of California millennials (Californians aged 18-29) were substituting marijuana for alcohol as their recreational drug of choice.

Alas, it was fake news. But if you strip away the fake news, there was real news underneath.

Here’s how it came down.

Earlier this year, OutCo, a Southern California-based medical cannabis company, and Monocle Research conducted a study of California marijuana users.

A six-page report on the study was issued in April. It contained a graphic that flatly stated “51 percent of millennials choose cannabis” — which most readers (including me) would take to mean that half of all California millennials who used booze were switching to weed. That is apparently what a number of reporters thought the report was saying, and that’s how they reported their stories.

For instance, the lede on an April 27 story in Natural News read, “A report by medical cannabis provider OutCo revealed that 51 percent of millennials — people born from 1982 to 2004 — preferred taking marijuana over drinking alcohol.”

If that were the case, the nation’s booze makers should be crying in their beer and shaking in their boots, because it would mean that they were being abandoned by tens of millions of young Americans.

However, it turned out the study was not a survey of all millennials. It was a survey of 2,000 California pot users of all ages. What the survey really found is that among California millennials who used marijuana, more than half preferred marijuana to alcohol.

A Gallup poll conducted last summer found that only about 13 percent of all Americans use marijuana. Among millennials the figure was just under 20 percent. So the nation’s brewers, wine makers and distillers don’t have to worry about being put out of business by defecting stoners just yet.

Still, the survey should give them cause for concern.

What the OutCo/Monocle survey really discovered is that if millennials become regular marijuana users they are a lot less likely to drink, with about half of them substituting pot for booze altogether.

The study also found that about 20 percent of California Generation X pot users and 8 percent of Cal Baby Boomer users preferred marijuana to alcohol.

Beer took the biggest hit among millennial pot users; 34 percent of them preferred marijuana to beer. Another 18 percent preferred marijuana to wine, and 14 percent preferred weed to distilled spirits. (Presumably there is some overlap among the groups.)

Marijuana use in the U.S. is clearly increasing as more and more states legalize. If the switching pattern continues among new users, the alcohol industry is going to have some real competition in the not too distant future.

The OutCO/Monocle survey also asked pot users why they preferred marijuana to alcohol, and their responses are the more interesting, and newsworthy, part of the survey.

Marijuana users who chose pot over alcohol cited safety, cost and health as reasons for making the switch.

“Many expressed the fear of making poor decisions when consuming alcohol, which included driving over the legal limit,” the survey said.

“Cost also came into play,” it added, “with many stating that their overall spending on alcohol outstrips that of high quality cannabis.”

Finally, health was given as a factor when substituting cannabis for alcohol, the study reported. Participants said “that the effects of a hangover from alcohol lasted the entire next day, while high volumes of cannabis usage had no noticeable lasting effects; thereby making them feel healthier and more active.”

The Marijuana Policy Project and other pro-legalization organizations have been arguing for years that compared to alcohol, marijuana is the safer recreational drug. Users evidently agree.

The fact that users also find that marijuana is the cheaper recreational drug will probably take a lot of people by surprise. When the marijuana industry starts going head to head with the booze industry, its slogan will be “Marijuana, a better high at a lower price.” It’ll be interesting to see how the brewers respond.