For the first time ever, a major alcohol association has come out in support of ending federal marijuana prohibition so that states can legalize cannabis without interference.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) announced “an official policy position in favor of a state’s right to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace,” in a press release on Thursday.
Today, we became the first and only beverage alcohol association to announce our position in favor of a state's right to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use #cannabis marketplace. Read our full statement: https://t.co/0rHHN3aEzU
— WSWA (@WSWAMedia) July 13, 2018
The announcement represented a significant departure from the association’s past statements on marijuana reform. Just two years ago, WSWA said in a sponsored advertisement that it was “neutral on the issue of legalization,” going on to caution congressional officials about the “dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana,” including drug-impaired driving.
Now the alcohol trade group is singing a different tune.
“The legal cannabis market continues to expand in the United States, generating $7.2 billion in economic activity in 2016,” Thursday’s press release reads. “WSWA believes that, similar to alcohol, the federal government should give states the power to legalize cannabis, but should ensure they meet an appropriate regulatory threshold.”
“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 for External Affairs Dawson Hobbs
WSWA went on to outline 13 policies it recommended for states that legalize recreational marijuana.
- A minimum age of 21 for purchase, possession and use, along with penalties for providing cannabis to minors;
- Establishment of Driving Under the Influence impaired driving standards;
- Licensing of producers, processors, distributors and retailers; Policies to prevent vertical monopoly/integration;
- Hours and days of sale parity with beverage alcohol;
- Tax collection and enforcement; Measures to prevent diversion of cannabis to other states;
- Restrictions on sale/common carrier delivery;
- Labeling requirements that include potency and health requirements;
- Testing of formulas to ensure product purity and consistency;
- Advertising restrictions designed to discourage underage access and promote responsible consumption;
- Restrictions on health claims on packaging;
- Establishment of a designated agency overseeing cannabis industry regulation in each state;
- Penalties for licensee violations on par with the state’s alcohol regulations;
- and Regulations that ensure all products in market can be tracked/traced to source processor/producer.
So what changed from two years ago?
While the group’s sudden embrace of local cannabis legalization efforts might strike some as odd given the intrinsic, competitive dynamic that’s developed between alcohol and marijuana interests, one aspect of the press release reveals how the broader booze industry could stand to profit:
“Legalization should include regulations that set age restrictions on buyers, as well as license and regulate the supply chain of cannabis, including growers, distributors, retailers and testing laboratories.” [Emphasis added.]
In other words, marijuana legalization might take a bite out of alcohol sales—as recent studies have shown—but the cannabis industry has diverse roles for various players to fill. Ancillary operators such as distributors now working under the current three-tier model for alcohol could be used in states with legal, regulated marijuana markets.
Hobbs denied that the association was trying to help the alcohol industry cash in on legal cannabis during an interview with Fox Business on Thursday.
“No, 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 argued. He also said that the association wouldn’t be lobbying Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take action on federal marijuana policy, but rather the group’s focus would be on Congress.
Marijuana Moment reached out to WSWA for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
What remains to be seen is whether other alcohol associations will follow suit. After all, a handful of alcohol interests, including the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association and the Boston Beer Company donated to campaigns opposing legalization efforts during the 2016 election.
With this latest development from a major alcohol association, it seems the industry is conceding: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Another encouraging signal of cannabis becoming ever more established and mainstream. https://t.co/uJtNBiTd9k
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) July 14, 2018
Hemp Will Be A Top 10 Product In 2019, Whole Foods Predicts
The gurus at Whole Foods Market have spoken: hemp products, already incredibly popular, will be a top 10 food trend in 2019.
In a press release, the company said it relied on “seasoned trend-spotters” who have “more than 100 years of combined experience in product sourcing, studying consumer preferences and participating in food and wellness industry exhibitions worldwide,” to compile its new report on what to expect next year.
So what will be flying off the shelves in 2019? According to the experts, lots and lots of hemp.
“Hemp hearts, seeds and oils are nothing new to food and body care lovers—they’re in everything from waffle mix to dried pastas,” the company wrote. “But a new interest in the potential benefits stemming from other parts of hemp plants has many brands looking to explore the booming cannabis biz.”
“While CBD oil is still technically taboo (prohibited in food, body care and dietary supplements under federal law), retailers, culinary experts and consumers can’t miss the cannabis craze when visiting food industry trade shows, food innovators conferences or even local farmers markets.”
(For the record, there’s a lot of confusion and disagreement about the federal legality of hemp-derived CBD oil, which you can read more about here.)
The trend won’t stop at CBD, either. Apparently phytocannabinoids, those compounds that are present in cannabis but also in other plants, are “becoming more visible and prevalent.”
“It’s clear that hemp-derived products are going mainstream, if not by wide distribution, then by word of mouth!”
Hemp products that the trend-spotters recommended include a line of health supplements containing phytocannabinoids, a face cream comprised of hemp stem cells and organic shelled hemp seeds.
While cultivating marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin is currently illegal in the U.S. outside of exceptions for state-approved hemp research programs authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, there’s a strong possibility that industrial hemp will be broadly legalized—possibly by the end of the year—once the House and Senate reconcile their versions of a new Farm Bill and put it on the president’s desk.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who introduced the provision, issued a “guarantee” last week that hemp legalization will be included in the final legislation.
That would give the hemp business an even greater boost going into the new year.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Washington Still Doesn’t Know What Good Marijuana Is (Or How To Test For It)
Retail sales of legal marijuana have been underway in Washington state for more than four years—and state regulators in charge of quality control still aren’t sure what good cannabis is, or how to test for it.
All product sold in stores is supposed to be tested for mold, pesticides and other contaminants by labs evaluated and accredited by a private company under contract.
That will change sometime soon. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, which regulates marijuana sales, has until January 15 to come up with recommendations for how the state should begin accrediting testing labs.
But in order to do that, regulators—or state lawmakers, or both—have to decide what, exactly, makes good weed. And nobody—not in Washington state, nor elsewhere in the U.S. where marijuana is legal—can seem to agree what that is, according to a draft government report posted online Thursday.
“Current quality standards… are insufficient to support a robust, science-based cannabis laboratory accreditation program,” the Washington Department of Ecology document says.
A “Cannabis Science Workgroup” comprised of experts in chemistry, biology, medicine and other fields to determine minimum standards for cannabis quality should be formed, wrote Sara Sekerak, a senior chemist and project manager at the department.
To reach this determination, researchers with the agency reviewed quality-control standards in four states. They found that “[w]idely accepted quality standards for testing cannabis and cannabis products do not yet exist.”
“Accreditation does not designate product standards or quality standards,” the report adds. “However, these are necessary to support meaningful accreditation.”
Eventually, testing labs in Washington will be accredited by a state agency. Until that happens, quality may remain erratic.
Because of weak or nonexistent state rules, labs “are allowed to design their own levels” of quality control and quality assurance. There are no readily available samples of agreed-upon “quality” cannabis to set a basic standard by, as there is for drinking water and other consumer goods.
Untrained workers collecting samples for testing may taint the samples. And current accreditation standards applied by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are not sufficient, the report found.
New York Liquor Stores Want To Sell Marijuana
Instead of creating a whole new system of specialized stores to distribute marijuana when it becomes legal, New York should just allow existing liquor and wine retail outlets to sell cannabis to adults. That’s the position of a new advocacy effort launched by owners of booze shops this month.
“With more than 2,000 wine and liquor stores from Buffalo to Montauk, we offer existing retail space with quick and cheap access to the market in every corner of the state,” reads the website for the group, which is called The Last Store on Main Street. “That means more tax revenue, and sooner, for the State to fulfill basic responsibilities and invest in the future of our neighborhoods.”
The group, which previously defeated an effort to allow wine sales in grocery stores, says that its members shops “operate under a highly regulated system that can easily and reasonably be expanded to cover marijuana retail without building new bureaucracy that only serves to eat into the tax revenues the industry creates.”
Jeff Saunders, the group’s founder, said alcohol retailers are worried that unless they are allowed to sell cannabis, their revenues could suffer.
“Recreational marijuana sales have resulted in significant declines in wine and liquor sales in other states, resulting in job loss and even stores closing,” he said, according to the news outlet New York Upstate.
On the group’s website, New Yorkers who agree with the goal of allowing weed sales in liquor stores can send prewritten letters to their state lawmakers that describe the move an “obvious win-win opportunity for a bedrock industry of New York’s Main Street economies and the future of our state.”
The effort to shape how legalization could roll out comes as the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is taking steps to bring about the end of marijuana prohibition.
Earlier this year, Cuomo directed the state Health Department to study legalizing marijuana, a move that led to a report that found that doing so would have more benefits than risks.
State officials are conducting a series of listening sessions around the state on the topic, and the governor created a task force to draft legalization legislation that lawmakers can consider in 2019.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are already holding hearings on ways to end cannabis prohibition.
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Acosta.