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A Comparison Of The Cannabis Industry Vs. The Alcohol Industry

A Comparison Of The Cannabis Industry Vs. The Alcohol Industry

The industries of alcohol and cannabis share enough similarities, but at the same time, they’re so far apart. The stigma that followed cannabis since prohibition still lingers in certain aspects, while alcohol continues to flourish as a commercial entity that sponsors significant events like the Super Bowl. Cannabis has ways to go before partnering with the NFL, but we’ve seen progress. 

Though it’s too early to compare the cannabis and alcohol industries fairly, we could certainly see how marijuana is shaping into a major player in the economy. Per Visual Capitalist, the total sales of cannabis — legal and otherwise — grew to $85B in 2020. It’s an impressive number, especially since cannabis isn’t legal in all states. However, that only remains a third of what the alcohol industry raked in ($223B). Add to the fact that cannabis industry trends show an increase in consumers in the past ten years, while alcohol consumption’s declined since the 1980s among college students; perhaps we’re inching closer towards finally shaking off the stigma entirely.

Between the legality, perceived health impacts, and social stigmas, there are plenty of statistics about the cannabis industry indicating why it hasn’t reached the size of the alcohol industry. Below, we have broken down these three main points.


States have the jurisdiction to legalize cannabis, and in many instances, there’s been a strong push towards legalization, whether medical or recreational. The cannabis industry is in its infancy right now, whereas the alcohol industry’s had the leg up for nearly 100 years. A century after prohibition, the alcohol industry continues to thrive because it can function like every other business. 

The legality of cannabis affects everyone, from cannabis consumers to businesses and, indirectly, even non-smokers. Governments spend resources towards clamping down on marijuana while companies can’t even get a fair shot with banks. At the same time, this heavily contributes to social stigmas surrounding weed.


Cannabis vs. alcohol remains a prevalent conversation among health experts. Though many studies surround cannabis, the legal status limited research. Alcohol, on the other hand, has been under the microscope for years worldwide, and researchers have more or less concluded that it is a harmful substance. Alcohol stands as #8 among deaths by risk factors globally. 

Cannabis didn’t make the list, but that’s not to say it isn’t harmful. The risks associated with cannabis aren’t fully developed and are rather complex, mainly due to the limited studies. Another factor to consider is the consumption of each; the effects of edibles have fewer long-term effects than smoking or even vaping. With the rising number of researchers looking into the health impact of cannabis, there will soon be answers. 


The stigma surrounding cannabis beats alcohol by a mile, but at the same time, the tides are shifting in cannabis’ favor. Over the past few years, more states have legalized cannabis than ever before, and it’s helped launch a legal market. However, the places that still adhere to prohibition-type laws continue to push Reefer Madness-type propaganda. Just like the alcohol sector urges for responsible consumption, the same sentiment reflects cannabis. Still, New York deals with the setbacks of cannabis misinformation at a higher rate than other legal states, such as California and Washington.

What’s Next?

The cannabis industry continues to thrive, but it can certainly learn a few things from the alcohol sector. An established federal framework for sale, cultivation, and testing can only benefit citizens and prevent faulty products that don’t undergo testing from entering stores. Once legalization takes place, the cannabis industry will hopefully have access to all resources available to businesses, including fair banking practices. At this point, hopefully, we’ll see cannabis looked at as a medication more than it is an illicit substance.

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