Federal lawmakers continue wrestling with the topic of marijuana legalization. Meanwhile, 38 states have decriminalized medical cannabis while 18 have given approval to recreation consumption. Some say federal legalization is inevitable. They say it’s just a matter of time. If and when it does happen, what next? Should marijuana be regulated like alcohol?
At least one prominent alcohol industry trade group thinks so. Leaders of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) are now publicly urging the entire alcohol industry to get behind efforts to convince Washington to reform marijuana laws. They want to see marijuana both legalized and regulated at the state level, similar to how alcohol is regulated.
A System That Works Well
The WSWA’s position is that the current regulatory framework governing alcohol works well. They say it has worked for both consumers and the industry since being implemented in the aftermath of prohibition. Applying the same sort of regulatory framework to marijuana would protect consumers and companies by establishing standards across the board.
Regulating marijuana like alcohol isn’t a unique idea. It has been discussed at length for many years. It is also not a completely foreign idea on Capitol Hill; numerous lawmakers have attempted to introduce bills to that effect. None of them has gotten very far, but at least Congress is talking about the idea.
Of course, the concept does have its opponents. Certain segments of the marijuana industry insist that state-level control will disrupt the market while also giving an unfair advantage to deep pocketed corporations capable of ultimately putting small businesses out of business.
The Current Alcohol System
As things currently stand, the federal government maintains control over alcohol only as it pertains to interstate commerce. As for how alcohol is produced, who produces it, where it is sold, etc., the states hold the cards. Almost all the regulations that impact alcohol production and sales are controlled at the state level.
Meanwhile, both federal and state taxes are collected. Some states even allow local municipalities to tax alcohol sales. Putting a similar system in place for marijuana would give Washington just enough control to keep its thumb on things. The federal government would also reap a tax windfall. States would still maintain majority control over day-to-day issues.
The Medical Cannabis Question
Should a regulatory system similar to the current alcohol system be put in place for marijuana, it will be interesting to note the impact of said system on medical cannabis. More specifically, how much control will states have over prohibition?
Right now, Utah is a medical-only state. Patients with valid medical cannabis cards can walk into Beehive Farmacy in Salt Lake City to purchase edibles, topicals, and vaping products. Beehive does not sell recreational products of any kind. Furthermore, consumers without valid medical cannabis cards can neither possess nor use marijuana.
Will federal legislation to legalize marijuana strip states of the right to ban recreational consumption within their borders? And if so, will the remaining holdout states that have neither medical nor recreational marijuana continue to hold on to that position?
Time Will Tell
In all likelihood, time will tell. The chances of marijuana being federally legalized are pretty good. It is also looking likely that federal lawmakers will seek to regulate marijuana in a fashion similar to alcohol. We might even see regulatory enforcement authority handed to the ATF. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
One can make the case that federal legalization should ultimately mean total federal control over marijuana. But a case can also be made for state regulation. Which way will it go?