BOSTON — After some in their industry poured tens of thousands of dollars into blocking legal marijuana, sellers of alcoholic beverages are now angling for a piece of the action.
The Massachusetts Package Store Association, which represents hundreds of liquor stores across the state, has agreed to support members who want to get into the legal weed business once the state begins granting licenses.
Frank Anzalotti, the group’s president, said the decision reflects interest among alcohol retailers who want to crack into the multi-billion marijuana industry. Package store owners also want pot sales to be subject to the same rules limiting sales of beer, wine and liquor, he said.
“Our diverse membership has differing views about the value of retail marijuana licenses for their businesses,” Anzalotti said. “But we all believe that the sale of any regulated substance must be carefully controlled through highly structured rules applied to marketing, sales, training and access.”
The package store association stayed neutral on the question of legalization, but the state’s beer, wine and liquor distributors chipped in at least $75,000 to the campaign to defeat Question 4, which was approved by a majority of the state’s voters in the Nov. 8 general election.
The new law, which went into effect Dec. 15, allows Massachusetts adults 21 and older to have up to an ounce of marijuana in public, and up to 10 ounces at home. It also authorizes retail sales and growing facilities that are expected to open in mid-2018.
Package stores interested
“Now that it’s legal, there are package store owners who are definitely interested,” said Bob Selby, owner of Kappy’s Liquors in Peabody and Danvers, who added that he would consider retail marijuana sales in his stores.
Package store owners have experience dealing with heavily regulated products, he noted, and are therefore well positioned to sell marijuana.
“We’ve been dealing with controlled substances for a long time,” he said.
Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which pushed legalization, said it’s “ironic” that alcohol retailers want to get into the pot business.
That suggests the alcohol industry is worried about losing market share, he added.
“The alcohol distributors put quite a bit of money toward the opposition, so the fact that they want to get into the economic benefits is somewhat ironic,” he said. “If they want to apply for licenses, they can, but they’ll have to meet all the requirements.”
Regulations being crafted by lawmakers will spell out where and when marijuana can be sold, and that could restrict sales at package stores, Borghesani said.
“It’s very unlikely marijuana will be sold on the shelves next to beer and vodka,” he said.
Pot’s effect on alcohol sales
Massachusetts is one of eight states, along with Washington, D.C., where recreational marijuana is legal. Twenty-eight other states have approved medical marijuana.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Trump administration has signaled that it intends to crack down on drug laws even in states that have legalized recreational pot.
Some research suggests that legal marijuana could slow down alcohol sales.
A new report from the Cannabiz Consumer Group estimates that the beer industry could lose more than $2 billion in retail sales to pot sales nationally.
A similar report from the New York-based research firm Cowen & Company said craft beer sales could take a substantial hit if more states legalize recreational marijuana.
“While recreational cannabis has only limited availability, the rise of cannabis consumption more broadly looks to be weighing on alcoholic beverage consumption, where it is now in decline for men and higher income consumers,” the report said.
Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which also opposed marijuana legalization, said he expects some members will get into the pot business, just as some marijuana retailers will join his group.
“As long as they are following the law, we would welcome them into our membership,” he said. “We have nothing in our bylaws prohibiting one of them from joining us.”
Hurst said a host of questions remain about marijuana sales — such as how retail marijuana business will be taxed, where shops will be located, and how many shops will be allowed in a given area.
But the pot business — which was valued by analysts at roughly $6.9 billion nationally in 2016 — could be very profitable for those who make a go of it, he said.
“There’s no question this could be a booming industry,” he said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.