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WSWA Lays Out Road Map For Federal Cannabis Legalization

March 23, 2021

With drinks wholesalers eager to capitalize on the green wave of cannabis legalization sweeping the U.S., the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) is looking to take an active role in shaping the regulatory environment for the emerging consumer category. In recent days the WSWA laid out a series of recommendations for federal legalization in a policy brief called Principles for Federal Oversight of the Adult-Use Cannabis Supply Chain. WSWA has officially supported cannabis legalization in states that choose to regulate it like alcohol since 2018.

The report lays out four principles the WSWA sees as critical, drawn from the blueprint of alcohol regulation that dates back to the repeal of Prohibition. They include: 1. Federal permitting of cannabis producers, importers, testing facilities, and distributors; 2. The approval and regulation of cannabis products; 3. Efficient and effective tax collection; and 4. Effective measures to ensure public safety.

“For nearly 90 years, the U.S. wine, beer, and spirits marketplace has been a global leader in product safety, industry innovation, and consumer choice,” the report’s authors write. “This result follows from a shared state-federal regulatory structure that has placed oversight of permitting, product approval, tax collection, and intra-industry conduct with the federal government while allowing states to establish independent systems that supplement these provisions to address local needs and priorities.”

In addition to product safety and accurate labeling, a regime based on alcohol’s example would have numerous economic benefits, WSWA’s Michael Bilello told SND. In fact, beyond adopting alcohol’s regulatory model, WSWA recommends that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) have its mission expanded to include cannabis oversight. “The TTB is uniquely qualified to assume oversight of adult-use cannabis,” Bilello said. “Looking at the statistics year after year, the TTB acts as one of the most efficient tax collecting entities in the federal government. And, under the TTB, the industry has an unparalleled safety record.”

While WSWA’s proposal goes into specifics for licensing and testing standards for cannabis, it also prioritizes flexibility. Safety and labeling standards can be rigorous without being rigid, as the wine and spirits industry’s example attests. By allowing for new product types and giving the TTB the discretion to approve products that meet their standards, the U.S. has been able to lead the way on drinks innovation, and a similar opportunity beckons in cannabis.

“The cannabis industry will be set up to succeed under these principles by cultivating innovation,” Bilello said. “You want a thriving, innovative marketplace that’s smartly regulated. When you look at the TTB’s oversight of the alcohol industry, you see a boom in both new producers of wine and spirits and in the variety of products. The TTB has helped foster the creation of the most diverse marketplace in the world, in terms of consumer selection and value.”

One of the chief concerns over legalization is a potential rise in intoxicated driving. Here, too, WSWA believes that the example of the alcohol industry is instructive. Through concerted effort on the part of drinks marketers and others, drunk driving is at record lows in the U.S. Similar education campaigns will be necessary for cannabis as it’s further normalized and destigmatized in American culture. WSWA’s report calls on the government to embrace a comprehensive anti-impaired driving message that can extend the success of anti-drunk driving campaigns outward to other substances and mental states.—Danny Sullivan

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