Grow, Gift, Repair

Alcohol lobby is getting serious

“There’s been a recognition that recreational cannabis is not just here to stay in Massachusetts, but it’s probably going to be nationalized within the next couple years,” Mellion said. “It’s important for the alcohol industry to accept and learn to coexist. There’s been an acceptance and an evolution, amongst retailers in particular.”

In addition to leading the Massachusetts Package Store Association, Mellion also sits on the board of the national trade group representing liquor stores, American Beverage Licensees (ABL). He let slip that the ABL is on the verge of publicly endorsing the STATES Act, or at least a similar approach to national legalization.

Another powerful national trade group, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, is also likely to endorse legalizing marijuana nationally, Mellion said, and has similarly engaged with Warren’s office.

The aim of the liquor groups, according to Mellion, is mostly to ensure that companies with state alcohol licenses and their owners aren’t barred from also applying for marijuana licenses. Even if booze and pot can’t be sold at the same store (which so far has been the rule in all the states with legal cannabis sales), those companies see themselves as experienced at navigating regulated industries and want the opportunity to open their own marijuana retail stores or distribution firms.

Also on the wish list: more uniform potency and packaging standards, and a requirement that the marijuana industry adopt the alcohol industry’s “three-tier” system, in which product cannot be sold directly from producers to retailers (or consumers) without first passing through a state-licensed distributor.

And yes, Mellion said, that would raise costs — which is the point. Consumption of intoxicants, after all, is to be discouraged. And he argued there are other benefits to the three-tier system, which prohibits producers, distributors, and retailers from owning or controlling one another.

“Some people say the three tier system is archaic and artificially raises costs,” Mellion said. “My rebuttal is that it’s been in play for almost 80 years and the system has consistently been able to prevent adulterated product from getting to the marketplace, made a lot of money for states, and allowed people to purchase a previously illegal product.”