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. The CCBA was on the scene.

One panel discussion addressed the regulation and enforcement of both medical and recreational marijuana. All panel members agreed it’s not a question of “if” more states will legalize cannabis, it’s just a question of “when.”

Here in California, most people in and around the Capitol feel pretty darn sure that the legalization of recreational use of marijuana will take place in 2016.

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 our industry here in California is if the Alcohol Beverage Control becomes the agency assigned to regulate and enforce recreational use.

Most states are looking at their alcohol beverage regulatory agency as the common sense choice for assuming the regulation of marijuana. In many ways it does. The California ABC has law enforcement agents, that issue licenses and they have statewide district offices. But adding another new, complex and controversial product into the laps of the ABC will unquestionably have some sort of impact on the Department which could have an unintended impact of licensed brewers.

One big concern is staffing. 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 also 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, legalization simply shifts the enforcement burden from city and county cops to ABC agents. It has not been determined if California will put the regulation and enforcement on the ABC or not, but cannabis advocates generally favor the ABC as the ‘agency of choice.’ This could dramatically alter the size, scope and capabilities of the ABC. It might be for the better, it could be for the worse. It all depends on funding and how it is set up internally within the Department. The CCBA will be watching closely. Stay tuned.