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If Bars And Restaurants Can Sell Alcohol, They Should Also Be Allowed To Serve Marijuana (Op-Ed)

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“All of these operators sell and manage a more hazardous drug, alcohol, comply with regulations on only selling to adults over 21 and collect sales taxes for our state.”

By Doug Frost

Adult-use marijuana legalization in the United States is rapidly nearing passage in a majority of states—in 2021, 18 states, including Missouri, considered such proposals. At the federal level, pressure is building in both Republican and Democratic factions in Congress, with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) demanding passage of comprehensive marijuana legislation, and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) proposing a passage of a proposal with priority given to marijuana offender release and expungement as well as low taxation and regulatory barriers to market entry.

In most states, however, legal marijuana licensing has seen significant restrictions, both in terms of numerical caps on licenses allocated, as well as high barriers to even submitting applications. These conditions have led to widespread controversy in dozens of states as ordinary entrepreneurs have largely been locked out of owning legal marijuana businesses by large, multi-state operators seeking to create monopoly access to market share.

This is an unfair and unjust situation, both from the perspective of entrepreneurs, particularly minorities, who want to innovate in legal marijuana businesses, but also in terms of existing industries who could create further opportunity in a variety of fields. Hospitality operators, in particular—that is, bar, restaurant, entertainment and lodging operators—deserve these opportunities.

In the state of Missouri, for instance, there are more than 16,000 state-licensed liquor businesses. All of these operators sell and manage a more hazardous drug, alcohol, comply with regulations on only selling to adults over 21 and collect sales taxes for our state. Many of them, particularly convenience stores, also sell cannabis products, including CBD and delta-8 THC smokable flower.

But because of both the specific, and illogical, prohibition on cannabis with delta-9 THC (legally defined as marijuana), hospitality operators, along with entrepreneurs generally, are shut out of these opportunities.

As the state of Missouri considers the legalization of adult-use marijuana, attention should be paid to creating opportunities for one of our largest and most culturally vibrant economic sectors. Bar owners and restaurateurs should be able to offer products infused with delta-9 THC; operators who have entertainment, lounge spaces  or lodging should be able to offer safe and legal consumption areas.

Moreover, by maximizing the space of legal marijuana sale, possession and consumption, we can create more opportunities for consumers to choose a safer drug over more dangerous drugs, particularly opiates. In the midst of an overdose crisis where both alcohol abuse and opiate abuse are contributing to historic levels of deaths, this harm reduction strategy should be seen as more than just an economic opportunity but a moral imperative.

The Missouri General Assembly will consider such proposals in early 2022. It should be a priority of Missouri hospitality operators and employees to pressure our state representatives and senators to deliver such a proposal to Gov. Mike Parson’s (R) desk.

Doug Frost, who lives in the Kansas City area in Prairie Village, Kansas, is one of only three people in the world to be certified as both a master sommelier and a master of wine. He is the president of a winery in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Photo courtesy of Marilyn Acosta.

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