The WikiLeaks release of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is causing quite a stir for Hillary Clinton after some of the messages appeared to show the supposedly neutral committee favoring her presidential campaign over that of primary rival Bernie Sanders.
But the emails also contain a juicy tidbit for followers of the increasingly prominent debate about marijuana legalization.
One message sent to DNC Finance Director Jordon Kaplan shows that the alcohol industry is spending money to get members of Congress to pay attention to marijuana-impaired driving.
The May 24, 2016 edition of Huddle, a daily Politico newsletter for Capitol Hill insiders, contained this paid advertisement:
** A message from Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America: While neutral on the issue of legalization, WSWA believes states that legalize marijuana need to ensure appropriate and effective regulations are enacted to protect the public from the dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana.
23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana while Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and D.C. have legalized possession and recreational use. In the years since the state legalized medicinal use, Colorado law enforcement officials have documented a significant increase in traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana.
Congress should fully fund Section 4008 of the FAST Act (PL 114-94) in the FY 2017 Appropriations process to document the prevalence of marijuana impaired driving, outline impairment standards and determine driving impairment detection methods.
While the excerpt from a public email newsletter is not exactly a secret like the internal DNC messages are, it is a revealing window into the alcohol industry’s apparent concern over the marijuana policy reform movement’s increasing success.
Pro-legalization advocates have long speculated that as criminalization and stigma disappear, many adults will choose to use marijuana instead of drink alcohol, which could lead to diminishing profits for beer, wine and liquor manufacturers and sellers.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America’s website calls marijuana policy a “key issue” and its annual convention last year featured a panel titled, “Everything You Need to Know about Marijuana Legalization.” A press release said the session would cover “how marijuana legalization could impact another socially sensitive product: beverage alcohol.”
Earlier this year a similar group, the Arizona Wine and Spirits Association, contributed $10,000 to the effort to defeat a marijuana legalization initiative that is expected to appear on Arizona’s November ballot.
The Politico newsletter ad refers to a provision of legislation Congress passed late last year which requires the Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the best methods for detecting cannabis-impaired driving and ways to “differentiate the cause of a driving impairment between alcohol and marijuana.” Under the law, the government will conduct a year-long investigation and then make recommendations, including for an “impairment standard” for driving under the influence of marijuana.
“There is currently no scientific consensus regarding the level at which marijuana consumption impairs a driver and no effective way to measure this impairment in the field,” WSWA said in a press release about the legislation. “This is problematic for law enforcement who, in contrast, can quickly and effectively establish a scientifically and legally-supported measure of alcohol impairment.”
Morgan Fox, communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the alcohol industry has its work cut out for itself in combatting drunk driving and should be wary about being seen as impeding cannabis legalization.
“No one should be driving while impaired by marijuana, and we should certainly be doing more research into all aspects of the substance, including its impact on driving,” he told Marijuana.com in an email. “However, given that driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal and that the existing research shows marijuana’s effect on driving ability is significantly less than alcohol, it is difficult to see a legitimate reason for the alcohol industry to be taking up this issue. They would do better to fund research on how to decrease drunk driving.”
Although WSWA seems to be going out if its way to raise fears about ending marijuana prohibition, it may actually be the case that the association’s members just don’t like the way legalization has specifically been formulated in the states that have enacted it so far.
“While WSWA does not have a position on the core question of marijuana legalization, we do have deep expertise in the structure, management and operational challenges of the three-tiered beverage alcohol regulatory structure- a system that has proven remarkably effective at addressing the myriad issues that gave rise to Prohibition,” its website says.
WSWA represents companies in the middle of the three tiers: Distributors who buy alcohol from producers and then place it into retail establishments where consumers shop.
“Without a similarly robust system, the marijuana market could present the potential for illicit and unregulated activity akin to that which occurred with alcohol prior to and during Prohibition,” the group’s site says. “Accordingly, WSWA stands ready to serve as a resource for states in explaining the merits of the three tier system as a systematic and effective regulatory framework.”
So WSWA isn’t necessarily opposed to legalization. It just seems to want to be the middleman between producers and retail sellers — and to grab a piece of the profits along the way.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.