Stephanie Smith and Jeff Guignard: No evidence that alcohol and cannabis co-sale encourages co-use

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      By Stephanie Smith and Jeff Guignard

      As the B.C. government prepares to announce retail options for nonmedical cannabis, some advocates have been vocal in their opposition to the sale of cannabis products in B.C. liquor stores.

      The arguments used by these advocates include a recommendation from some public health officers and a single recommendation in the federal cannabis task force report, that non-medical cannabis not be sold alongside alcohol.

      It’s important to note, however, that none of these advocates has presented any evidence to support their position. Even the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, in a recent op-ed on, admit that "there is little research to confirm that there is a direct correlation between colocation and co-use."

      The Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance of BC (RMRABC) fully supports an evidence-based public health policy approach that discourages the co-use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. We also believe that medical cannabis use should be administered by a safe, separate, and effective medical cannabis distribution system.

      As part of this evidence-based process, we point to a submission to the federal cannabis task force by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital in Toronto, which states clearly that “there is no evidence as to whether selling cannabis and alcohol alongside one another encourages or facilitates co-use.”

      The CAMH submission also supports the distribution of non-medical cannabis by "provincial liquor boards". Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick are already using liquor boards to distribute and retail cannabis.

      In the United States, where cannabis has been legalized in several states, the first consumer research on cannabis and alcohol sales is emerging. A 2017 released study, Helping Settle the Marijuana and Alcohol Debate: Evidence from Scanner Data, compares alcohol sales in areas that legalized marijuana, and shows an average 15 percent decrease in alcohol sales after cannabis was legalized.

      The report states: "We find that marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes," and found that marijuana legalization "had a negative effect on corresponding (alcohol) sales by as much as 13.8 and 16.2 percent, respectively".

      The U.S. study concludes that the introduction of cannabis into the marketplace appears to reduce the overall consumption of alcohol, which has potentially positive public-health outcomes, and would appear to contradict the unproven claims from some advocates that locating cannabis and alcohol in the same store will encourage co-use. The opposite result appears to be the case in this study.

      Keeping the sale of controlled substances like alcohol and cannabis within the secure, regulated environment of B.C. liquor stores will help control misuse of the products and increases government’s ability to track sales and affect health outcomes with on-site public education campaigns.

      We believe that B.C.’s existing sales and distribution system maximizes the benefits to our province while minimizing risks. Done properly, the retail and distribution of non-medical cannabis through our current liquor distribution system will create good jobs for British Columbians and generate revenue to fund public services, while minimizing potential harms associated with cannabis use.

      Stephanie Smith is the president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. Jeff Guignard is the executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees B.C.