With all the talk over the past decade about the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana after a long ban, it’s interesting to look at some of the things that happened after the ban on alcohol in the U.S. during the 20th century. The repeal of Prohibition wasn’t loved by everyone and a lot of strange laws went into effect after the ban was lifted.
A recent opinion piece in The National Review talked about some of these old laws and how they are bad for business and freedom. It’s quite likely we could see some similar laws spring up in other places as marijuana gets more legal.
Bars have long had to negotiate weird laws to run their businesses. Sometimes the laws were rooted in moralistic reasons. Sometimes they were rooted in protectionism of existing industries so they could control the market. Paul Michaels, founder and CEO of National Bartenders, says that one of the difficulties of opening new locations for bartending schools is estimating how well the local laws will allow graduates to find jobs quickly after they finish.
Indiana can only serve cold beer in actual bars. All other locations have to serve beer warm, which isn’t to most American’s tastes (though many Europeans prefer it.) For a long time in Georgia, producers of alcoholic beverages couldn’t sell directly to the public. They had to go through one of three distributors who then resold the product to sellers. That started to change in 2017 as pressure from producers and a growing craft beer and spirits movement grew.
The same sorts of confusion are happening in states where marijuana has been legalized. Every state has different rules for possession, growing, selling, and transporting. Registration laws in states where only medical marijuana is legal can be very lax or extremely strict. There are even differences in the rules for testing the quality of the product. Rolling Stone has a guide for the current laws that shows the great variety of rules.
The big stumbling block to clearing all of this up is the current federal ban on marijuana. If and when they remove it from Schedule 1 status, they will likely lay down some baseline regulations for all states to follow. That will help put some method to the madness.
However, they could follow the same route that the repeal of the Prohibition of alcohol did and let the states decide what the rules are. If so, we could be in for another 100 years of laws shifting from state to state in a confusing way. For consumers, this mostly leads to amusing stories of interstate travel. People living in Georgia might be surprised that they can get liquor easily in convenience stores in Missouri. You can even still find dry counties where local laws ban it, especially in Arkansas. But for the marijuana industry, which is still in its infant stages, it will be the Wild West all over again.