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Interview, Part 2: WSWA’s Vision For Federal Cannabis Regulation

May 16, 2023

In the second part of our interview, WSWA president and CEO Francis Creighton, executive vice president of government affairs Dawson Hobbs, general counsel Jake Hegeman, and executive vice president of communications Michael Bilello speak more about specific parts of future federal cannabis legalization including the role of the TTB, CBD considerations, and interstate commerce.

SNDC: What role do you see the TTB playing in new cannabis products coming to market?

Francis Creighton: There are a million different labels on spirit bottles and on wine bottles, all of which have been crafted with very clear direction about what can and can’t be on there by TTB regulation. TTB rules preclude products that mimic products aimed at children, for example, but also standards like, for instance, the potency level. We know an 80 proof spirit can be compared to a 13% abv wine. Those are the kinds of things we would foresee. But of course, it’s its own product and the TTB could develop standards specific to cannabis. And it doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone. The regulatory process is important for this so that we don’t lock something into law, because then it becomes very, very difficult to change in the future if consumer needs, public health, or other questions change it. The label has evolved. Now a bottle of wine will tell you if it contains sulfites, for example, and that’s good. That’s a positive thing, but it’s because it’s gone through a process. That possibility of evolution and not being locked into law is an important part of it.

Dawson Hobbs: One good analogy are the AVAs. It’s important to remember that sort of certification comes up from the consumer and industry level and is basically requested to TTB. They have a process where they go through and when they feel that there’s consensus that, yes, this is a unique product, they allow that to be put on the label and for that to have a meaning. And I think too, what’s important in that conversation is, in many ways, that’s the second and third step after we legalize. We have to legalize and create the base level regulation so that we can then create the confidence, so that consumers start trusting their labels enough to want there to be an AVA or a name or any of those things. But we have to start with the need for a regulatory body. We think it should be TTB.

SNDC: With some of your wholesale members getting into CBD, is that part of what you’re advocating for on Capitol Hill?

Creighton: Our members are all over the map on this. Some are interested in the business, some aren’t. They’re doing what they’re doing either way. This is not targeted at what they’re doing right now. This is really targeted at a long-term fix for the future. And people who want to get into it and are doing stuff, great, people who don’t, great. We’re supporting and representing everybody on this. This is not targeted at what companies are doing right now already in the market.

Hobbs: That said, I will say we do have conversations about CBD when we have these conversations. We say very similarly to the THC cannabis products, the current system isn’t working either. The FDA just came back and said to Congress, “We can’t regulate this product. We don’t know what to do,” which from our view is all the more reason they shouldn’t be placed in charge of cannabis if they can’t even figure out the CBD component. But also, we think Congress needs to lay down some rules of the road because there may be even more uncertainty because of the quasi-legal nature at the federal level of CBD.

SNDC: With many states starting to openly consider the possibilities of interstate cannabis commerce, what’s your perspective on the federal government’s role in that eventuality?

Hobbs: It’s an appropriate role of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce. The way they do that in the alcohol space is production and distribution licensing at the federal level while retail is left to the states. Something very similar can happen for cannabis where producers, distributors, and testing facilities–because that’s something we don’t have in alcohol that you’ll need in the cannabis space–would be federally licensed. And under our plan interstate commerce would be between federally licensed entities, so that you can ensure that the transportation of that product across state lines is between federally licensed entities so they can make sure the product isn’t going into the wrong hands and isn’t going into places that it shouldn’t.

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