By Leslie Bocskor
In 1932, John D. Rockefeller, once a staunch Prohibitionist, remarked that “drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before,” (see Daniel Okrent’s Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center) because of Prohibition.
As those in the cannabis industry are aware, Rockefeller’s realization about the impact of alcohol Prohibition was prescient as to the effect that Cannabis Prohibition would have for decades to come. As the alcohol industry re-emerged, the operators realized that it is incumbent on markets such as spirits, beer, and wine to establish infrastructure for self-regulation early on in their development.
When sensible frameworks for regulation evolve, and the state can rely on industry to self-police and structure, the industries operate from a position of being a responsible community member. There was another foresight that the major participants in the reborn wine, spirits, and beer industry would have: That it is an absolute necessity for them to Self-Regulate, and if they failed to, they would be doomed to an over-regulated and considerably less profitable market.
Per the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, within months of Prohibition’s repeal, distillers created a voluntary Code of Good Practice to ensure that distilled spirits advertising be responsible, dignified and intended strictly for adults. Still in existence today, the Code has 39 provisions regarding the responsible placement and content of distilled spirits advertising and marketing. In fact, some of the first ads along these lines employed messages like “We Who Make Whiskey Say: ‘Drink Moderately’” (1934), “Drinking and Driving Do Not Mix” (1937), and “Some Men Should Not Drink” (1938).
The spirit industry’s efforts don’t stop at self-regulating advertising practices either. Books, such as Alcohol Education for Classroom and Community, were published for use in high schools and colleges across the country and private-public partnerships aimed at educating the medical community about the science of addiction and signs pointing to the need for substance abuse treatment.
Similarly, the beer industry has long adopted the view that promoting responsible consumption does not run counter to achieving business goals. Rather, getting ahead of public health concerns has proved to be an essential component in building brands that consumers and the federal government trust. The beer industry’s recent collaboration with the World Health Organization and educational programs such as Family Talk About Drinking and Vivamos Responsablemente (“Let’s Live Responsibly”) in Argentina extend authentic and far-reaching efforts.
The basis for all of this goes back to the years immediately following the drop of Prohibition when self-regulatory committees were formed in states as far as Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Industry leaders recognized that if they failed to organize and regulate themselves early, local and state governments, not to mention federal authorities, would be quick to do that job for them.
The parallels between the need for self-regulation in the alcohol and cannabis industries cannot be over-emphasized. As has been stated about wine from an international perspective:
There are different drinking patterns in different parts of the world – including in the EU – because they are part of different cultures and traditional lifestyles. Consumption patterns and habits differ widely from one country or region to another, particularly with regard to the different categories of alcoholic beverages, all of which have their own individual characteristics.
With the diversity of strains, potency, terpene profiles and product types we’re seeing emerge from varying geographic areas of the cannabis industry, and with the groundwork being laid in states like California for appellations in cannabis as we’ve seen for wine, we must as an emerging market be proactive about crafting standards for ourselves and creating mechanisms for internally driven compliance.
The Need for Self-Regulation
Without Self-Regulation at the National and Local level we, the operators, entrepreneurs and investors in this amazing new market will find ourselves being regulated by bureaucrats. As we have seen with the recent law in Colorado prohibiting edibles in the shape of fruit, humans, or animals (but not vegetables), the state and local regulators will make efforts to solve their problems with little or no regard to the effect it has on our businesses.
It is entirely in our control and now is the time for the industry to begin regulating itself. It has been done before, and we will answer that need together, as a community, as an industry.