A political action committee of the California Beer & Beverage Distributors recently gave $10,000 to the campaign to defeat Proposition 19, the November ballot initiative that would legalize pot and its cultivation and distribution.
Hmmm....What could be going on here?
Perhaps we should call it: Sobriety for thee, but not for me.
Big business interests have long used the political process to block competition. Here in L.A., a coalition of brick-and-mortar restaurants is lobbying for new regulations on food trucks, which, in the view of the restaurants, would level the playing field with the trucks and their cheaper cost structure.
The alcohol industry is itself heavily regulated and presents high barriers to new entrants. Ever notice how you can't buy a bottle of Absolut or case of Bud from the companies' Web sites? Why not? Because the government -- heavily lobbied by the deep-pocketed distributors and retailers -- won't let you. (Add: To be fair, there's a solid policy rationale for the added layer of regulation here: Alcohol isn't your average consumer product, and a heavy regulatory hand is certainly justifiable.) Anyway, you can't buy a case of Bud, but you can buy this fantastic "Grass Can Coozie Six Pack," however.)
So perhaps the beer distributors see legal pot as a threat to their buzzy business model and fear legally stoned Californians would spend less money on beer.
Rhonda Stevenson, director of public affairs for the California Beer & Beverage Distributors, said the group's opposition comes from concerns about public and worker safety. She relied on talking points from the California Chamber of Commerce stating that if Prop. 19 passes, employers would have no ability to monitor or regulate pot consumption of employees, thereby creating the danger of stoned truck drivers and sales people on the roads, and stoned forklift drivers in the warehouses.
Stevenson said with some certainty that Prop. 19 specifically says employers can't test workers for pot. It says no such thing, though the California Chamber has made the case that some slippery wording in the initiative amounts to the same thing. Let's turn to The Huffington Post for more on this controversy:
(Prop. 19 advocates) point to the state Legislative Analyst's Office's determination that employers would "retain existing rights to address consumption of marijuana that impairs an employee's job performance."
Mainly at issue is a section of the proposition that says no one can "be denied any right or privilege" because they engaged in legal conduct permitted by the act, such as smoking pot.
The section continues: "The existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance by an employee shall not be affected."
The chamber claims the proposition would create a new, ill-defined standard of "actual impairment" that would prevent employers from disciplining workers simply for consuming marijuana. Instead, according to the chamber's analysis, employers would have to prove that pot impaired an employee's job performance.
"For example, if a forklift driver showed up reeking of marijuana smoke, an employer could not take disciplinary action until it could be proven that the employee's job performance was 'actually impaired' by the marijuana use (for example, after an accident occurred)," the chamber wrote.
The Proposition 19 campaign said in a statement Thursday that employers under the law would still be able to prohibit and punish employees for marijuana consumption that impairs job performance just as they would for alcohol.
Add: Roger Salazar, the political consultant working on behalf of the No on Prop. 19 effort, emails over a blog post written by Russ Belville of NORML's Stash Blog. (NORML is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the pro-legalization group.)
Referring to the workplace provisions, Belville writes:
This is a big one. You can't be punished or denied privileges based on pot smoking. The only exception is employers preventing you from smoking pot on the job. Note the "actually impairs job performance" language. This is the loophole through which some attorney is going to drive a big truck delivering us freedom from workplace pee testing for cannabis. Pee test metabolites do not prove workplace impairment.
Stevenson said the beer distributors are also opposed to Prop. 19 on the grounds that it doesn't create an effective regulatory regime for the newly legalized drug. She notes that when Prohibition was repealed, there were already in the works solid state mechanisms for creating an effective regulatory structure.
Prop. 19, on the other hand, leaves regulation and taxation in the hands of local governments. "They're allowing some 500 different authorities. It's unenforceable and would probably be very confusing to distributors."
On this point, Stevenson is on much safer ground: It would appear that Prop. 19's passage could create regulatory chaos.
Stevenson said the beer distributors don't have a position on pot legalization per se and emphasized the group is not opposed to Prop. 19 on the grounds of marijuana's status as a competitive product.
That's an expected answer, the veracity of which we leave to you, reader.
Update: Email from Tom McCormick, of the craft brewers group, to The Informer:
Some California craft brewers have been receiving inquiries from beer enthusiasts regarding their role in the California Beer and Beverage Distributors (CBBD) opposition to Prop. 19.
Quite simply- there is none. The CBBD is the trade association representing beer distributors in California. The members of the CBBD are independent beverage distributors and are not directly associated with craft brewers. Many craft brewers contract with beer distributors to deliver their products to retailers, but the CBBD does not represent in any way the political interests of the craft brewing community or
The craft brewers of California are represented by the California Small Brewers Association (CSBA). The CSBA does not take a stance on non-industry related issues and has no stated position on Prop. 19. Additionally, the CSBA is strictly a grass roots organization. We do not contribute PAC money to any initiative or make campaign
contributions to any candidates.