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Although the alcohol industry has previously taken a dim view towards potential competition from legal pot, an increasing number of industry leaders are realizing that booze and bud can go hand in hand. Late last week, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), a national trade group that represents wine and liquor distributors, became the first such organization to publicly support states' rights to legalize cannabis.
"Eight decades ago, Americans acknowledged that the Prohibition of alcohol was a failed policy. The state-based system of regulation, adopted after Prohibition, created a U.S. beverage alcohol market that is the safest, most competitive and best regulated in the world," WSWA Acting Executive Vice President Dawson Hobbs said in a statement. Accordingly, the group is now officially advocating “in favor of a state’s right to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace.”
The WSWA is calling on the federal government to support recent legislation that would protect the rights of any state to legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Several bills to this effect have been introduced into Congress this year, and President Trump has said that he would probably sign such a bill into law. “What we’re talking about is just creating a pathway for states to have federal recognition of legalization, by enacting appropriate regulation that creates a safe and reliable marketplace,” Hobbs said in a recent interview, Brewbound reports.
The WSWA has outlined a number of rules that they believe would bring a cannabis retail market in line with the country’s tightly-regulated alcohol industry. For example, the organization recommends a minimum age of 21 for legal use and sales, with strict penalties for providing pot to minors or driving under the influence, while also suggesting that cannabis advertising should be limited to discourage undue interest from minors.
A representative from the Beer Institute, another alcohol industry trade group, told Brewbound that they did not have an official position on legal weed. The group is well aware of the rapid expansion of this new industry, however, and has invited both Jessica Lukas, vice president of consumer insights at cannabis analysis firm BDS Analytics, and Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, to deliver presentations on the growth of legal weed in the U.S.
The alcohol industry's feelings toward legal weed have been mixed in the past. Several recent studies have connected legal weed with decreased rates of alcohol use and abuse, and despite the positive implications for overall public health, this represents a threat to the alcohol industry's bottom line. Over previous years, some alcohol groups have channeled funding to anti-cannabis lobbying efforts, hoping to hamstring their potential new competitors.
More recently, though, many alcohol industry insiders have realized that getting onboard with legal pot is likely more profitable than trying to stop it. Constellation Brands Inc., one of the world's largest alcohol distributors, just invested nearly $200 million into Canadian canna-business Canopy Growth Corp, as other industry leaders from giants like Jim Beam, Budweiser, and Blue Moon have also recently jumped ship from alcohol to launch new enterprises in the legal weed space.