Monday, October 22, 2012

Marijuana infused beer sold to minors

Serving as a preview for what is in store for our state if I-502 is approved, the seizure of marijuana infused beer highlights that regulating marijuana is more complicated than the "treat it like alcohol" slogan.  

Last week, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) served a search warrant at a medical marijuana cooperative in Tacoma for alleged sales of alcohol without a license and sales of alcohol to a minor. The Hashford Compassion Club is a medicinal marijuana outlet and does not have a liquor license. The WSLCB seized an indeterminate number of cases of beer.

The WSLCB acted on a complaint that a minor was sold alcohol. The beer (pictured)  was in a re-purposed Corona Light bottle with a label that read “Northern Light,” and advertised as “Cannabis Enriched Honey Beer.”  While the beer is apparently enriched with marijuana, the WSLCB is acting on the liquor sales violation only.

“This is a public safety concern, “said Chief of WSLCB Enforcement and Education Justin Nordhorn. “Selling alcohol to minors without a license is the equivalent of selling alcohol out of the trunk of a car.” 

This story highlights the many questions that will need to be answered if I-502 is approved.  Is marijuana infused beer an alcohol product or a marijuana product?  Will grocery stores be able to sell marijuana infused alcohol?  And what about marijuana infused foods?  Are they food products (and therefore exempt from sales taxes) or are they drug products?  If they are food products, will the Liquor Control Board still have regulatory authority over them?

Several proponents of I-502 and state legislators acknowledge that I-502 is not perfect and that it will need to be tweaked by the legislature.  The issue about marijuana infused products is just one of the imperfections that will need to be tweaked.  If I-502 is approved, Washingtonians can expect the next several legislative sessions to be filled with contentious debates about how to actually implement the initiative.  Meanwhile, with or without the tweaks, marijuana would be fully legal one year from December.  

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