NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Impact Of New Initiatives On College Drinking And Drug Use

April 30, 2002

By cracking down on underage and binge drinking in an attempt to prevent student deaths, colleges also will trim the use of marijuana, according to researchers. Stricter college alcohol policies, such as raising the price of alcohol or banning alcohol on campus, decrease the number of students who use marijuana.

Alcohol and marijuana are what economists call "economic complements," at least for college students. There had been concern that the two were "substitutes," and that anti-alcohol policies by colleges inadvertently contributed to a 22 percent increase in marijuana use among college students between 1993 and 1999.

But researchers who analyzed evidence from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study -- which included data on students from 1993, 1997 and 1999, and covered 140 schools in 40 states -- found that the drugs are complements.

  • Researchers found that marijuana use -- as well as alcohol use -- declined following a wave of private and public initiatives, including raising the price of alcohol (often through a higher beer tax), and restricting access to alcohol through campus bans or state laws restricting happy hours.
  • Banning alcohol on campus shrank the use of both alcohol and marijuana by female students of all ages; however, it did not effect use by males.
  • Also, the various changes in alcohol policies had the same impact on individuals under the age of 21 as on those of legal drinking age.

The more likely explanation for the rise in the use of marijuana by college students, the authors suspect, is that its price has dropped significantly in the past decade.

Source: David R. Francis, "College Drinking and Drug Use," NBER Digest, November 2001; based on Jenny Williams, et al., "Alcohol and Marijuana Use Among College Students: Economic Complements or Substitutes," NBER Working Paper No. 8401, July 2001, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER Digest article


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