Alcohol industry trade body comes out for legal cannabis

Posted on July 24th, 2018 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , , .

wineThe main alcohol industry trade association has just signaled its support for cannabis legalization—despite a seeming history of intriguing against it. With a shift in public consciousness and potential for synergy in cannabis-infused wine, beer and cocktails, the booze biz may be adopting an attitude of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

When the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) issued a policy position in support of a state's right "to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use cannbis marketplace," it took many observers by surprise. Drawing a clear analogy between its own products and the herbal competition, WSWA said it "calls on the federal government to respect the right of states to legalize cannabis if they adopt cannabis market regulations that meet a framework similar to that governing beverage alcohol."

Making the comparison more explicit still, WSWA acting executive vice president Dawson Hobbs said in the July 12 press release: "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 outlined several factors for what it considers "an appropriate regulatory threshold" for legal cannabis. These include a minimum age of 21 for purchase, possession and use; penalties for providing cannabis to minors; establishment of a standard for driving under the influence; and restrictions on hours and days of sale in "parity with beverage alcohol."

Tellingly, the press release notes that the "legal cannabis market continues to expand in the United States, generating $7.2 billion in economic activity in 2016." 

Potential for industry fusion
This move by WSWA may reflect a growing awareness of the opportunities for the alcohol industry to get in on the cannabis action through fusion products.

The Guardian on July 22 notes that Province Brands of Ontario is developing the first beer to be brewed with parts of the cannabis plant—primarily the stalks, stem and roots—rather than barley and grains. It may be a novelty product, but it is one likely to make a splash—even if it isn't actually psychoactive. (Or at least no more psychoactive than beer brewed the traditional way.) And another Ontario firm, Canopy Growth, is developing a line of cannabis-infused cocktails. Those actually will have psychoactive cannabinoids.

Cannabis-infused beer is also foreseen for the stateside market—but in the more puritanical atmosphere of the USA, politicians have already broached banning it. 

Big booze playing catch-up?
This does seem to be a dramatic turn-around the WSWA. While they haven't had a public position on the cannabis question, they have appeared to intrigue against legalization in the past. website noted in 2016 that the notorious WikiLeaks dump of Democratic National Committee e-mails included a paid advertisement from WSWA urging  Congress members to fund a study of "marijuana impaired driving."

Now, the whole question of "marijuana impaired driving" is widely misunderstood—cannabis does not impair motor function the way alcohol does, for instance. There is a sense that WSWA was exploiting the issue as propaganda against cannabis legalization. 

In fact, The Guardian in October 2016 reported that the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association donated  $10,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy—the group that was then campaigning against the state's cannabis legalization initiative, Proposition 205 . While the November 2016 ballot saw big advances for cannabis in other states, Prop 205 was rejected by the voters.

Recent research has found that teens polled about their substance use are now saying cannabis was their first drug experience more often than alcohol or cigarettes. Now, under the law, teens aren't supposed to be using any of those three, of course. Still, from a harm-reduction perspective, the tilt to cannabis is good news. And today's teens will be tomorrow's legal consumers. The booze industry may fear being left behind.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Photo via Cannabis Now 

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