The ABC’s of Marijuana and Beer

The annual National Conference for State Liquor Administrators was held last week in San Antonio, TX. This conference is attended by state alcohol beverage regulatory agencies and other liquor control departments along with many trade associations and stakeholders in the industry.

One panel discussion addressed the regulation and enforcement of both medical and recreational marijuana. The common opinion from the panelist was it’s not a question of “if” more states will legalize cannabis, it’s just a question of “when.”

Why is the legalization of marijuana being talked about at an alcohol beverage conference? Because it will almost certainly have some impact on the alcohol beverage industry. One area that could impact the beer industry is if the regulatory agency assigned to regulate and enforce medicinal or recreational use of marijuana is the same agency that currently regulates alcohol.

Some states will certainly tuck marijuana regulation and enforcement into the state ABC. Washington State has done this, Colorado did not. Adding another new, complex and controversial product into the laps of a state ABC will unquestionably have some sort of impact on the agency. Many people feel that legalizing marijuana will reduce the need for cops to go around busting people for smoking, growing or possession. True. But, there will be a very big need to enforce the state laws once it is legalized. If they are not enforced, there will be no incentive for growers and sellers to enter the regulated system, where the taxes and licensing revenue will come from. So instead of relieving enforcement, it simply shifts the enforcement from city and county cops to ABC sworn officers (cops). If a state ABC takes on marijuana enforcement, it could dramatically alter the size, scope and capabilities of the agency. It might be for the better, it could be for the worse. It all depends on funding and how it is set up within the agency. Stay tuned.