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 cannabis marketplace,” it took many industry 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.”
Recent reports have highlighted the fact that medical marijuana legalization decreased alcohol sales, and it appears that power players in the alcohol industry are pivoting to figure out how not to get left behind, now that it’s apparent the tide of cannabis legalization isn’t slowing down.
In a July 12 press release, the acting executive vice president of WSWA, Dawson Hobbs, drew positive parallels between the cannabis and alcohol industries.
“Eight decades ago, Americans acknowledged that the Prohibition of alcohol was a failed policy,” he said. “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.”
In their recent announcement, WSWA outlined several factors for what it considers “an appropriate regulatory threshold” for legal cannabis — most of which are similar to alcohol regulations. These include a minimum age of 21 for purchase, possession and use; penalties for providing cannabis to minors; the 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 also 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 that combine both cannabis and alcohol.
For example, 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 United States, politicians have already broached banning it.
WSWA’s Prohibitionist Past
This does seem to be a dramatic turn-around for the WSWA. While they haven’t had a public position on the cannabis question, they have appeared to work against cannabis legalization in the past. In 32016, Marijuana.com noted 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 in the same way alcohol does, for instance. There is a sense that WSWA was exploiting the issue to slow down the push for 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 Arizona 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. Of course, under the law, teens aren’t supposed to be using any of those three. However, the trend presents an interesting warning to the alcohol industry, as today’s teens will be tomorrow’s legal consumers. The booze industry may fear being left behind and is figuring out how to keep their piece of the pie.
TELL US, do you think wine and weed can get along?