Effective state-based regulation of alcohol should provide guidance in the marijuana policy debate.
While there are significant differences between alcohol and marijuana, some of the principles that work to regulate alcohol should be considered for marijuana.
For more than 80 years, the alcohol industry has been regulated effectively through a system of state and federal laws that work to balance consumers’ interest in choice and availability with the public’s interest in revenue collection and an orderly market. Through the ratification of the 21st Amendment, Congress and state legislatures recognized that attitudes regarding alcohol differed from state to state and, as a result, state governments were empowered to regulate the alcohol industry.
Today, the 21st Amendment continues to provide a foundation for the federal government and the states to regulate alcohol. This supports regulatory principles that create orderly markets – principles such as: separation of the producer and the retailer; product label approvals; price regulation; and limitations on access and availability.
States and the federal government should consider these policies as they work to regulate marijuana.
Public opinion and policy debates regarding effective regulation of marijuana are evolving. Although it remains illegal at the federal level, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Several states have had robust debates surrounding the legalization of marijuana and how it should be regulated at the state level. Many questions regarding public safety, health, impairment, liability and effective regulation remain unanswered.
Policy debates have surrounded topics such as: revenue collection and excise taxes; law enforcement; product composition; and federal preemption of state laws.
Public health officials believe that more research needs to be conducted to better understand the impact that marijuana can have on human behavior, development achievement and overall health.
In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a study, Marijuana-Impaired Driving: A Report to Congress, which reiterated the need for additional data collection and research and put forth the following recommendations:
Changes to marijuana policy should ensure the implementation of a comprehensive regulatory structure and allow for rigorous regulatory oversight.
Regulatory oversight measures also should clearly address marijuana-impairment concerns, including but not limited to the following:
As the debate surrounding marijuana legalization continues, a focus on appropriate marijuana tax policy should be integral to the discussion. The effective regulation of alcohol has ensured that taxes are collected in a transparent and accountable manner. As some states chose to legalize a product that has been previously prohibited and unregulated, policymakers and regulators should consider the time-tested tax administration history of the alcohol industry.