New study: Marijuana users more like cigarette smokers – not alcohol drinkers

BOSTON — Pro-pot backers have been marketing Tuesday’s ballot measure to legalize marijuana as a “The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” – but new research uncovered by FOX25 shows pot users have more in common with cigarette smokers.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen tracked down that research report published in the Journal of Drug Issues, which found that the average happy hour drinker has a lot less in common with many marijuana users.

A disproportionate share of marijuana users – like cigarette smokers – are poorer with family incomes under $25,000 and uneducated with a high school diploma or less, according to the study by Steven Davenport and Jonathan Caulkins.

But campaigners supporting Question 4 to legalize pot have been comparing regulating marijuana to alcohol in their sales pitch to Massachusetts voters.

“We want to give adults the ability to choose a substance that's less dangerous than alcohol, less toxic, less addictive than alcohol,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Yes on 4 Campaign.

But when it comes to education, income and daily use, new research found closer ties between people who use marijuana and those who smoke cigarettes.

“Marijuana use, like that of cigarettes, is concentrated in lower socio-economic strata, whereas alcohol is a relatively upscale drug,” according to the study findings.

FOX25 spoke by phone with one of the authors of the study, which looked at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health as well as changes in the marijuana market from 2002 to 2013.

“Forty percent of ‘use days’ with alcohol is done by people with a college degree. And this is something that often surprises people,” said Davenport, who spoke to FOX25 from California. “With cigarettes and marijuana, it's quite a bit lower.”

Davenport told FOX25, “If we only think about the model for alcohol, we’re really severely limiting our options for cannabis.”

While the study’s authors aren’t taking a political position on Tuesday’s ballot question, state Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, is one of the top lawmakers leading the charge against Question 4 to legalize marijuana.

“I think it is largely misleading to compare marijuana to alcohol,” said Lewis, chairman of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana. “The industry itself, the marijuana industry which is already a multi-billion dollar industry, is really following the playbook of big tobacco.”

Unlike tobacco, marijuana raises questions about how to stop people from driving under the influence – opponents say the new initiative doesn’t do enough to address that.

If Question 4 passes, supporters say it would create a board similar to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.

Lewis told FOX25 he’s concerned the 15-member advisory board would be serving the pot industry more than public safety because nine commissioner members must have industry experience.

But those pushing to legalize marijuana are standing by their message to voters.

“The alcohol system licenses sellers,” said Borghesani. “It supervises those sellers. It enforces violations. We want the same thing with the marijuana industry.”