Drug Policy

Whatever Happened to Treating Marijuana Like Alcohol?


Walking and Drinking Beer

Amendment 64, the ballot initiative that legalized cannabis in Colorado, was also known as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012. Under "Purpose and Findings," it says marijuana should be "taxed in a manner similar to alcohol" and "regulated in a manner similar to alcohol." How is that working out so far? Judging from the recommendations made by the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, not so well.

Start with taxes. Colorado's excise tax on beer is 8 cents per gallon, in addition to a federal tax that of 58 cents per gallon. According the U.S. Treasury Department, the federal tax comes out to a nickel per 12-ounce container. Let's be generous and say the state tax adds another penny, so that's nine cents a bottle, or a rate of about 8 percent if you buy a $7 six-pack. For distilled spirits, the federal tax is $13.50 per "proof gallon" (which is 50 percent alcohol), to which Colorado adds a tax of about 60 cents per liter (regardless of alcohol content, apparently). The Treasury Department says the federal tax amounts to $2.14 per 750-milliliter bottle, to which, by my rough calculation, the state tax adds something like 35 cents; let's call it $2.50 per bottle in total excise taxes. That's equivalent to a 12.5 percent tax on a $20 bottle of vodka.

By comparison, the task force says the state should impose a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana at the wholesale level, plus a special sales tax at a "reasonable rate." According to the task force's report, some members thought 25 percent would be reasonable, while others thought it would be "too high, encouraging the survival of the illegal market and increasing the incidence of home cultivation among private citizens" (which Amendment 64 allows). Let's say the sales tax is 10 percent. Without knowing the wholesale "cost" (a largely notional number when retailers are required to grow at least 70 percent of their inventory, as the task force recommends) or the retail markup, it is hard to say exactly how much these levies would increase the price for an eighth of an ounce, which currently sells for about $25 in Colorado's medical marijuana dispensaries. But these taxes clearly are much heavier than the taxes collected on alcoholic beverages.

What about regulation? While newcomers are free to make and sell alcoholic beverages (provided they obtain the necessary licenses), the task force wants the recreational marijuana market limited to existing dispensaries for a year. While alcohol regulations generally prohibit vertical integration, with exceptions for businesss such as brewpubs and wineries that sell directly to the public, the task force wants to require vertical integration (for the first three years at least). While alcohol can be consumed in bars and restaurants, the task force seems determined to foreclose any such option for marijuana (although the rules it recommends seem to leave some loopholes). While sellers of alcoholic beverages are free to advertise on TV and radio, on billboards, and in general-interest publications, the task force wants to ban such ads for state-licensed pot stores (a form of censorship the state constitution does not seem to allow).

There are various other ways in which the legal treatment of marijuana in Colorado, as discussed so far, sharply diverges from the legal treatment of alcohol, despite Amendment 64's promise that they would be similar. In a recent letter to John Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner who is now Colorado's governor, Bill Althouse, a Colorado activist who identifies himself as executive director of the Campaign to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana, offers some modest proposals for alleviating this disparity, including:

  • If a child sees a parent consume alcohol, Protective Services may remove the child from the home.
  • If a parent has one drink, it will cause loss of custody of children in a divorce case.
  • No alcohol may be served by the drink anywhere in Colorado.
  • All publicly viewable consumption at sporting events, backyards , political rallies, fraternal organizations, breweries, vineyards, farmers markets, and picnics, even if the alcohol is free, is a crime.
  • Alcohol consumption outside a private home is a crime.
  • No alcohol advertising is allowed except for adult only publications.
  • All alcohol production and sales must be a monopoly selected by the State.
  • All craft beer is illegal, only large brewers may be licensed as retailers
  • All alcohol sales are package sales only, must be in child proof containers and placed in plain dark paper exit packaging stapled shut before leaving the store.
  • Non Colorado citizens will be limited to one bottle of beer per purchase.
  • Colorado citizens will be limited to a six pack per purchase.
  • Home brewers must grow their hops under artificial lights in a separate locked space and brewing must also occur in that locked space. Using sunshine is a crime.
  • Alcohol retailers must only sell alcohol and nothing else.
  • Outside investment in beer production or hops growing is illegal.

As Colorado's legislators consider the task force's recommendations during the next month or so, they should keep Althouse's suggestions in mind. Maybe that will help steer them toward policies that show greater respect for free markets, consumer choice, and freedom of speech.

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  1. “Whatever Happened to Treating Marijuana Like Alcohol?”

    Did you expect that? Bwahahahahaha

  2. So far, The WA State Liquor Board hasn’t been nearly as wishy-washy as CO has been, but we’ll see if that changes. One can only hope they are reasonable about the regulations they decide upon.

    You wanna get high?

    1. By “not nearly as wishy-washy”, do you mean, more aggressive with its regulating?

      Because frankly, I’m scared shitless of what Washington Liquor Control board could do to legal marijuana. And given the local press’ knee-jerk, sycophantic and completely uncritical reporting on it “Let’s interview a really smart guy who will be responsible for creating the Marijuana Market in our state!”, I’m not feeling real positive.

      1. My only point is that so far, we haven’t heard stupid shit from the LCB like we’ve been hearing from CO. The key words in that sentence being “so far”.

        1. And though journalists have gone giddy about the part-time weed consultants the state is hiring by next week, those consultants will report to Simmons and are working in part to confirm ? or dispute ? research done by his teams.


          Probably the most significant challenge to come in rule making is finding the sweet spot in supply and prices that will nourish a state system while undercutting the black market. If the state produces too much pot it likely will leak into the black market. If it produces too little, the black market may flourish. Similar dynamics are at play in pricing.

          That shit makes me quake in my boots. In fear. In my boots.

          Why would an initiative that treats Pot like Alcohol need a seed-to-store regulatory system that concerns itself with consumer price points?

          1. We had it with alcohol, didn’t we? And then an initiative successfully privatized alcohol distribution and sales. I expect the state to do a completely shitty job supplying weed, and then I expect an initiative or three to privatize it (assuming the Feds haven’t shot us all at that point), which will eventually pass.

            1. Maybe. Considering they had been trying to privatize liquor since, I think the 70s, I’m hoping that the arc from seed-to-store to making it like it should be will be much shorter.

  3. Any new tax on MJ will have to be approved by CO voters (thanks, TABOR!), so when the taxes come up for a vote I’ll just vote no on them and hope enough others also vote no.

    Unless of course they do something sneaky and illegal like adding a clause that states that if the tax law fails then ammendment 64 is repealed or something like that. I wouldn’t put it past them to try something like that.

    I knew when 64 passed the tards would do everything in their power to fuck it up. And, as always, fuck John Lick-a-pooper.

    1. I’m quite sure that Colorado constitutional amendments can only operate on an affirmative basis — i.e., a new amendment can’t say that if it fails to pass then a different existing amendment should be deemed repealed.

  4. NPR just can’t understand why Americans can get with the common good like Asians do.


    The actual workings of the earnest liberal mind never fail to both amaze and appall me.

    1. NPR just can’t understand why Americans can get with the common good like Asians do.

      Different cultures will have different values. Not that hard to understand.

    2. Awesome. Thanks.

      “And what she finds is that when people are asked to think about the greater good, it actually undermines their performance on a variety of mental and physical tasks”

      The stupid and lazy aren’t drawn to collectivism, collectivism *makes* them stupid and lazy.

      Or maybe it’s *both*. Probably both.

      1. It looks like it is saying that if you are required to think outside your normal paradigm, your performance suffers.

    3. people actually work harder, try harder when they’re asked to think about themselves as being trailblazing individuals….

      Gee, I wonder why.

    4. Everyone in America is raised to value independence, but there are some groups that are also raised to value interdependence.

      The two are not mutually exclusive. Being an “extremist” proponent of free markets, I highly value interdependence.

      1. As in, I very much enjoy that China is willing to make pretty much everything with their low cost of labor, which lets me buy shit cheap.

    5. Ask any “A” student in school what they think of group projects.

      The answer is always the same. Obviously, progressives were the “C” students. To their benefit they outnumber the “A” students.

      “Look, ma! I got an “A” on my group project! And I barely did any work on it! I am SO smart!”

  5. Remember all of this the next time you hear some lawmaker complaining about businesses/individuals “exploiting loopholes” or “violating the spirit of the law”

    Instead of erring on the side of freedom or fewer regulations, lawmakers seem to be determined to tightly wall of and contain this new voted on freedom as much as possible. Why aren’t more people calling them on this?

  6. How is that working out so far? Judging from the recommendations made by the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, not so well.

    Wait, wha? Who predicted that? Who saw that coming?

    Yeah, if you think that regulators are going to let something slide by as easily as alcohol, you’ve got another thing coming.

    While alcohol can be consumed in bars and restaurants, the task force seems determined to foreclose any such option for marijuana (although the rules it recommends seem to leave some loopholes).

    Uhm, public smoking? Oh you thought you were going to be exempt because it was weed.

    Also, the letter while awesome in its snark and its point, is probably exactly what regulators would love to do.

    Again, funny, but quit giving them ideas.

    1. Uhm, public smoking?

      This is something I wondered about for a long time. Do smoking bans apply only to tobacco, or to anything that you can smoke? And does the smoking substance have to be in a cigarette, cigar, pipe, etc. or is anything that produces smoke covered under the law? Would burning incense in your store violate smoking ban laws?

  7. Maybe that will help steer them toward policies that show greater respect for free markets, consumer choice, and freedom of speech.


  8. “an eighth of an ounce, which currently sells for about $25”

    I find that hard to believe.

    1. Too high?

      Central NC pot is readily available at 25/ 1/4oz… Granted, it’s swag, but still “available.”

      1. Well my point is that medical Marijuana is high-quality weed from what I hear, not swag. I have been told that good grow-house weed goes for about $100/quarter.

  9. OT: My 3rd bracket with Wisconsin winning it all is dead.

  10. God dammit, Althouse, don’t give MADD ideas.

  11. The legislation was probably crafted by progressives. What do you expect -besides- government control at every level?

  12. Wait, you mean a citizen’s ballot initiative that bypassed a government that was refusing to listen to the voters, is running into opposition from the government that continues to refuse to listen to the voters?

    I’m shocked.

  13. Why on earth would you want weed treated like alcohol? Alcohol is regulated up the ASS.

  14. Any tax on pot is going to give a whole new meaning to HIGH taxes
    (cue drum roll, cymbal crash). Put me on Leno

    1. He may be a bit tubby, but not nearly as comfortable to sit on as it appears

  15. We need to get past the supreme court first. Once that happens, then we can remove black-market creating restrictions on marijuana. The dominoes to become more like alcohol will begin to fall. If the supreme court strikes down these states’ constitutionality arguments, then we have to pressure Rand Paul to start remove marijuana from the Federal Schedule 1, or completely abolish the Scheduling Laws all together.

  16. The dubious (lefty) crusade to “treat pot like booze” was…well, dubious from the start. But it was yet another enlightening glimpse of the cognitive dissonance house of mirrors of the left.

  17. Interestingly blackmarket still offers more true “freedom” ….

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