The time has come for the Federal Government to recognize the right of states to legalize cannabis.
The right to legalize, however, comes with the responsibility to regulate. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) believes Congress should respect the will of the states to legalize cannabis markets to operate as long as they enact appropriate regulations.
WSWA is the first alcohol industry association to advocate for federal recognition of states’ rights to legalize and regulate cannabis.
The alcohol industry offers a model framework, informed by our eight-decade record of safety, effective regulation, innovation and competition. The framework seeks to promote four broad, shared goals: ensure product safety, discourage underage access, create an effective tax collection regime, and eliminate diversion of cannabis to non-legal markets — all while allowing the regulated market to supply the needs of adult consumers.
Enacting policies to achieve these goals would bring the growing cannabis industry on par with beverage alcohol. To ameliorate conflict between federal laws and states with legalized cannabis, Congress should provide regulatory standards these states must meet to receive federal recognition.
Our suggestion is not new; cannabis activists have long asked to be regulated like alcohol. We agree, but it is important for lawmakers to recognize alcohol regulations don’t end at the 21-year-old drinking age; they include all the principles outlined below.
Minimum standards can be explained in three categories.
Regulation to protect public safety should include a 21-year-old minimum age for purchase, possession and use, and penalties for providing cannabis to minors. Impaired driving standards and restrictions on health claims on packaging should be established, along with hours and days of sale (similar to alcohol) and restrictions to discourage underage access and encourage responsible consumption. Delivery by common carriers should be regulated like alcohol.
Industry practice regulations should prohibit vertical integration, ensure accurate and efficient tax collection, and enact licensing of producers, processors, distributors and retailers — with penalties for license violations mirroring the state’s alcohol code. States should designate an agency to be charged with regulating cannabis and enact measures to prevent diversion to other states.
Finally, regulations should ensure product integrity as with alcohol. This measure includes testing formulas to ensure purity and consistency and confirming that all products in the marketplace can be traced to the processor/producer.
This framework is identical to requirements on the beverage alcohol industry.
Policymakers established alcohol industry regulations because of failures before and during Prohibition. The adopted model was simple: Empower each state as the primary authority over its beverage alcohol licensees (suppliers, distributors and retailers) with additional federal licensing and oversight for suppliers and distributors.
Eight decades later, counterfeit and tainted alcohol products are essentially nonexistent in the United States, despite being widespread in other countries.
With careful and continuous regulation, cannabis can achieve wider acceptance on a federal level. Adherence to regulations will, over time, create a cannabis marketplace that’s heralded as safe, unadulterated and effective.
The United States is home to the most diverse, innovative and competitive alcohol marketplace in the world and that marketplace is successfully regulated (and taxed) by state and federal authorities working in partnership. Both alcohol and cannabis are intoxicants that have potential for impairment and misuse; regulating the substances in a similar manner makes sense.
Cannabis legalization is here to stay.
To adapt in this new era, federal and state officials can look to the lessons of Prohibition and the success of the modern beverage alcohol marketplace for a model that can guide the cannabis industry. If it’s done right, cannabis producers, processors, distributors and retailers — along with policymakers and the public — will be as proud of the cannabis industry’s record as we are of ours today.
Dawson Hobbs is the CEO of WSWA, the national trade association representing the wholesale tier of the wine and spirits industry, which distributes more than 80 percent of all wine and spirits sold at wholesale in the United States.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.