Wine and Marijuana: Political and Economic Competitors
Come November, Colorado, Oregon and Washington residents will vote on whether to fully legalize and fully regulate (like alcohol) marijuana. What’s really interesting is that the backers of these initiatives take alcohol regulation as their model. In fact, in Colorado, the initiative (Prop 64) to legalize Marijuana is called “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol“. Meanwhile, serious people in California are looking to get the “Regulate Marijuana like Wine” initiative on the ballot there.
One wonders where the alcohol industry stands on this potential newcomer to the legal marketplace of mind altering products.
It’s fair and logical to assume that the alcohol industry does not like the idea of competition in the legal mind altering product category. Alcohol has this category pretty much sewed up. But the fact is, it’s a fairly good guess the alcohol industry dislikes not only the rhetorical effort to promote marijuana legalization with reference to alcohol and wine (“Regulate Marijuana Like Wine” and “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol”), but don”t even like the legalization discussion to happen at all.
“Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far safer than alcohol and cigarettes for the consumer and the surrounding community. Alcohol and tobacco are more toxic, more addictive, and more harmful to the body than marijuana, and alcohol is more likely to result in injuries and lead to interpersonal violence. According to an assessment recently published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal, health-related costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for marijuana consumers, and those for tobacco consumers are are 40 times greater than those for marijuana consumers.”
Alcohol is demonized every time it is mentioned in the same sentence with pot. And it’s usually demonized with a splash of references to hypocrisy. Just recently it was pointed out that the now infamous Missouri legislator who found magical qualities in women’s vaginas (Rep. Akin) is also squarely opposed to pot legalization. Yet, as this story points out, he’s happy to take thousands upon thousands of dollars from the National Beer Wholesalers of America as well as Budweiser-INBEV.
Then there was the discussion of moms who smoke pot being a little peeved at the hypocrisy of being judged by moms that drink a bottle of Chardonnay every night.
The demonetization of alcohol at the hands pot reformers and moms is one thing. The industry can handle that by being fairly quiet and staying out of the discussion. I think what is more worrying to the alcohol industry is the competition that legal marijuana posses.
There is not an alcohol produce in their right mind in the world who will play up the mind-altering qualities of their product. it is equally true that there is not an alcohol producer in their right mind anywhere in the world that does not appreciate the selling point of alcohol being a mind altering substance. Anyone who does not believe that one reason alcohol is a successful product is due to the fact that it will change the drinkers perception just doesn’t understand the first principles of human nature.
One of the problems with legalized marijuana sales is that when, after legalization, we have various proposals to tweak the way marijuana is sold, taxed, distributed and used, it is nearly impossible to not consider whether the same proposal ought to be applied to alcohol. This in turn forces the alcohol industry to have to confront more attempts to control alcohol sales, taxes, distribution and use. Not good. Not good at all.
I have no hard evidence on this next point. But suspect it true. I don’t think alcohol producers or their representatives will weigh in at all on the question of ballot initiatives that seek to legalize pot this year or when they appear subsequently in other states in the years to come. However, I do suspect that we will see a good chunk of change going from individual owners and shareholders of alcohol companies to the “No on Legalization” campaigns.
The legalization of marijuana strikes me as similar to the legalization of same sex marriage. Politically, it’s something I believe will most certainly come as more and more Americans witness the fact that a person who gets stoned isn’t necessarily guaranteed to become a crackhead. It’s about familiarity and knowing someone who smokes pot and didn’t turn into a crackhead. The “coming out” movement drove forward gay rights in ways no other effort could as it demonstrated to those people culturally or spiritually opposed to homosexuality that people they knew and respected were gay. I imagine a similar kind of movement to “smoke out” marijuana users would have the same kind of impact.
However, I think the effort to legalize marijuana will be more difficult than the effort to legalize gay marriage. There is little in the way of litigation that can help supporters of marijuana legalization as there is for supporters of same sex marriage. Further, the federal government has a variety of jurisdictional claims and noteworthy carrots and sticks that can slow the legalization effort if such a stance becomes the position of the Executive branch.
However, there is one caveat to this general and reflexive opposition to competition that the alcohol industry possesses: What kind of business are you aware of that is very good at cultivating, processing, packaging, marketing, distributing and selling mind altering substances? Furthermore, at least in California—which often sets the tone for innovative commercial activity—there is a belief that positioning marijuana use and sales as being no different than wine use and sales will get the job done. Here is the language of the California initiative that will come to the ballot and here is a portion of that language if you had any doubts about the linkage of wine and dope:
“regulations shall not prohibit marijuana farming, the operation of marijuana establishments or point of sale outlets, either expressly or through regulations that make their operation different than wine or beer regulations and fees...Should the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control fail to have procedures in effect by this date, it shall use forms presently used for wine and beer, and replace the words wine, beer, alcohol, with the word marijuana, and accept and process those forms within sixty days of submission or approval is automatic.”