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Interview: The WSWA's Move to Back Legalized Cannabis
Last night, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) officially came out in favor of legalized cannabis in states that pledge to regulate the category like beverage alcohol. Shanken News Daily met with Dawson Hobbs, the WSWA’s acting executive vice president for external affairs, to discuss the group’s new position on cannabis, and the role beverage alcohol wholesalers could play in the category looking ahead. SND: What went into the WSWA’s decision to enter the cannabis debate? Hobbs: Like everybody else in the industry, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s happening with cannabis legalization, and what role can we play in the conversation. For 75 years, we’ve focused on effective state-based regulation of alcohol, and it’s been very successful. We’re at all-time lows for underage access and driving under the influence. So we’re advocating for similar regulations for cannabis. Right now, there’s a conflict between the federal government and the states on the issue. Until that’s resolved, you really have an untenable situation. We’re advocating for Congress to give states the right to legalize cannabis—as long as they do it responsibly, based on alcohol regulations. SND: What specific requirements are you suggesting Congress impose on cannabis markets? Hobbs: It’s in the interest of Congress as well as the states to adopt legislation that makes sure that the product isn’t being diverted out of the market to a state that hasn’t chosen to legalize, that it’s not getting into the hands of underage people, to ensure the product is pure, that the dosage on the label is accurate, that the product is traceable back to its producer, and that taxes are collected. Advocates of legalization have asked for years that cannabis be regulated like alcohol. We agree, but we’re also reminding folks that it doesn’t end with a minimum purchasing age and curtailing driving under the influence. There are a host of things involving licensing and the operations of distributors, producers, and retailers, all of which need to be regulated to ensure that the product gets to the consumer in a safe way, and that it’s not diverted outside the tax system and the regulatory structure. SND: Have you been active in promoting a three-tier system in states that have legalized cannabis? Hobbs: Quite frankly, that’s part of the reason we’re taking this position. We haven’t yet engaged in the conversation in any individual state. But we think it’s time to take the lessons of alcohol regulation to cannabis. SND: Do you envision cannabis being distributed on the same truck along with beverage alcohol, for example? Hobbs: We aren’t discussing whether it should be on the same truck as alcohol. That’s a decision for down the road. We need to get base regulation in the states first to make sure that there’s a safe, well-regulated cannabis marketplace before those conversations can happen. SND: Of course there might be a merging of cannabis and beverage alcohol in different products too. Hobbs: You already see that discussion in the marketplace, and it’s one of the things that needs to be dealt with. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has a role to play here, but cannabis is currently illegal at the federal level. TTB needs to be able to exercise their authority, as do states. We certainly don’t want anything added to beverage alcohol that could be in any way unsafe. This is something that everybody needs to engage on, because it’s not going away. More states are going to legalize, and when they do, it’s important that they do it responsibly.    
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