Many of the arguments for the legalization of marijuana are based on its claimed value in the treatment of specific illnesses or easing of the symptoms of illnesses. Proponents of marijuana legalization also frequently cite its benefits with regard to easing the side effects of cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. There is also evidence that suggests that the cannabidiol or CBD in marijuana may actually prevent certain diseases. Now, scientists are exploring the possibility that marijuana use may actually reduce incidences of alcoholism.

It is estimated that alcoholism is directly responsible for as many as 88,000 deaths every year. The disease also takes a considerable toll on state healthcare and government resources in addition to its cost to individuals and property. The mounting evidence that suggest marijuana use may reduce drinking is therefore welcome news for communities that have legalized marijuana or are taking steps to do so.

One of the obvious results of legalization is an increase in marijuana usage among the public. But if properly regulated, wider spread marijuana use may actually result in an overall improvement of the collective public’s health. Part of the reason for this is the expected decline in alcohol use that will result from the increased availability of marijuana. This theory is supported by the academic blog JSTOR Daily and economist D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University among others.

Anderson has conducted research that suggests that, contrary to its supposed ‘gateway’ effect, marijuana may actually serve as a substitute for alcohol for many people. Citing the high cots of alcohol abuse on society, Anderson feels that in significant enough numbers, the general shift to marijuana instead of alcohol will result in perceptible health benefits to the public.

There are also laboratory studies that suggest that people with THC in their systems are more likely to overestimate the degree of their physical and mental impairment than people who had been drinking. Based on these findings, it may be suggested that people under the influence of cannabis may tend to drive more conservatively than alcohol-impaired drivers. However, most legalization proponents stop short of declaring that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving drunk.

In any case, a study conducted on 19 states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana showed an 8% to 11% reduction in traffic-related deaths during the first year of legalization alone. Some suggest that the reason for this is that most marijuana users are more likely to stay home than drive from bar to bar. Considering that the reduction in traffic-related deaths was especially obvious at night and during the weekends–when bars typically attract the most people–there may just be some truth in the ‘stoners-stay-home’ theory.

Although cannabis legalization isn’t likely to spell the death knoll for the alcohol industry, it will undoubtedly cast a significant dent. Bars and liquor stores are certain to feel the brunt of the blow as more and more of their customers opt for dispensaries instead. When you compare the societal effects of alcohol abuse and cannabis use, the shift from alcohol to marijuana may not be such a bad thing.