Regulate Cannabis Like Alcohol and End the Federal-State Conflict

Cannabis legalization is here to stay, and the movement is spreading.

It’s time to look beyond the question of “Yes or no?” and instead craft a regulatory model that implements what voters have chosen. That model would then provide a path to end the conflict that puts legalized states in opposition to federal law.

The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America recently became the first alcohol industry association to advocate a policy path to end this conflict. We believe that the alcohol industry’s regulatory model offers a proven, effective framework — one that’s been tested throughout the eight-plus decades since the end of Prohibition. Further, we believe that if a state legalizes cannabis and regulates it like alcohol, the federal government can then take action to recognize cannabis markets as legitimate.

We offer our industry model because its results are known to regulators and proven to consumers. The U.S. beverage alcohol market delivers products of unquestioned integrity in a safe, well-regulated manner — while still encouraging competition and innovation.

Translating this framework to the cannabis marketplace means addressing goals similar to those dealt with under alcohol laws. At a minimum, the optimal regulatory structure should seek to achieve these three goals:

Protect public safety. Regulations should include a 21-year-old minimum age for purchase, possession and use, as well as penalties for giving cannabis to those under age. There should be standards for driving under the influence of cannabis, along with restrictions against health claims. In addition, as with alcohol, states should implement hours and day-of-sale restrictions, along with policies to discourage underage access and regulation for delivery by common carriers.

Regulate industry practices. Regulations should prevent vertical monopolies, promote effective tax collection and put in place producer, processor, distributor and seller licensing programs. Penalties for violation should mirror the state’s alcohol code, and each state should set up or empower a primary regulatory agency to oversee the market and protect against diversion to other states.

Ensure product integrity. States should enact programs to ensure that cannabis and related products are traceable, tested, labeled and responsibly marketed, just as with beverage alcohol.

Today, the United States has the safest beverage alcohol market in the world. Federal and state authorities regulate and tax our marketplace and strictly enforce laws — supported by the industry — regarding marketing and sales. This system helps ensure not only that consumers enjoy the safety benefits, but also that the marketplace rewards innovation and choice.

With each election cycle, the legalization movement grows. That’s why those in both federal and state governments should move past “Yes or no?” and look to a policy and regulatory path that will end the current legal conflict and respect the will of voters and state legislatures.

Both alcohol and cannabis are intoxicants that have potential for impairment and misuse; regulating them similarly is sound policy. We look forward to sharing and discussing our model as lawmakers and the public engage on this important question.


Dawson Hobbs is executive vice president of external affairs for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

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