High Demand: Legalized Weed Boosts Junk Food Sales

  • This is one of those results that surprises no one, but at least we have numbers now.

Although U.S. states have slowly started legalizing recreational marijuana use, there are good arguments to be made both for and against legal weed smoking. But producers of snacks and other junk food are likely to be firmly in the pro-weed camp.

That’s because apparently weed legalization is great for junk food sales. Turns out that the stereotype about stoners with ravenous munchies isn’t quite as exaggerated as we thought.

A first-of-its-kind study – published in the journal Economics & Human Biology – found that states where weed is legal saw significant boosts in the consumption of junk food.

“You think marijuana does no harm – that’s pretty much the consensus today – but there are unintended consequences,” the study’s co-author Alberto Chong, an economist from Georgia State University, told The Academic Times.

“One of them is the fact that you get very hungry and you start eating crap,” he continued.

He also commented on the prevailing stoner stereotype and how close it is to reality.

“[After smoking weed] you’re like, ‘I’m really hungry now.’ It’s what people always say, it’s what people always think, but this actually proves it,” said Chong.

I’m so high, man, I need two burgers for this.

Cookies, Chips, and Cream

In total, Chong and co-author Michele Baggio from University of Connecticut found that legalizing weed boosts junk food sales by 6.1%. In volume, the increase amounted to 5.1%.

The researchers analyzed county-by-county data from Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — each of which has legalized weed. They also used statistical sales data from convenience stores, drugstores, and grocery stores.

The most popular item to feed your munchies appears to be – unsurprisingly – potato chips. Chip sales increased by 5.3%

The second most common option is cookies, which saw a 4.1% sales boost. The number three spot goes to ice cream, with a sales increase of 3.1%.

“We find that legalizing recreational marijuana leads to an increase in sales of junk food as monthly sales,” the study reads.

“The increase in sales starts at the time the legislation becomes effective. The effect slightly decreases in the semesters thereafter for ice cream and chips, but not for cookies.”

In other words, cookies end up being the number one munchies snack.

Fat Stoners?

There are a couple of takeaways from the study. The first one is that if you run a snack or junk food business, keep an eye on your state’s weed laws. You might need to up production if puffing on a joint becomes legal.

But the other conclusion highlights another unintended side effect of smoking weed. Namely, stuffing junk food into your face tends to make you fat.

“Our findings may be particularly relevant from a policymaking perspective, at a time when more states are considering legalizing marijuana consumption while battling an obesity epidemic,” the researchers write.

That is a good point to make, when looking at national statistics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that in 2018, 42.4% of U.S. population was obese.

That number marks a 10% increase in the obesity rate from 2000. In addition, cases of severe obesity doubled in the same timeframe.

Chong and Baggio said that the increased junk food consumption – and the resulting increase in obesity – should be among things that governments consider when debating whether to legalize weed.

A Booze-free Baby Boom

Junk food isn’t the only aspect of the economy and daily life that weed legalization affects, though. There are also many other, for example alcohol consumption.

According to another study from 2020, states with legalized marijuana saw a 12.4% drop in alcohol sales. The study used similar metrics as the junk food study, so the results are equally accurate.

The researchers from this study note for a long time, the prevailing theory was that legal weed would add to negative side effects brought on by alcohol. However, their findings suggest that smoking weed replaces alcohol consumption, and as such won’t bring on additional societal ills.

For example, they observed no increases in traffic injuries or fatalities. They’re not saying that getting high and driving a car is any safer than drunk driving, though, so don’t do that.

Yet another study took a look at the relationship between weed and sex. These researchers found out that legalizing weed can actually lead to a small-scale baby boom.

Their results suggest that a lenient weed policies led to “an increase in sexual activity, a reduction in contraceptive use conditional on having sex, and an increase in number of births.” On a bit of a darker note, they also found an uptick in gonorrhea infections.

“These changes may be attributed to behavioral responses including increased attention to the immediate hedonic effects of sexual contact, increased sexual frequency, as well as delayed discounting and ignoring the future costs associated with sex,” the researchers note.