Paul Hletko on How Legal Cannabis and Alcohol Can Coexist
By Kyle Swartz

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With the current momentum behind cannabis, broad U.S. legalization is no longer a pipe dream. Voters have already approved recreational pot along the entire west coast (plus Nevada). The east coast does not seem far behind.

What’s that mean for the alcohol industry? Will cannabis siphon away sales? Should the same government officials oversee both industries? And why does the cannabis industry continuously depict alcohol as the “unsafe” substance of the two?

For insight into these questions I recently spoke with Paul Hletko. The founder and CEO of Few Spirits, and former lawyer, is also past president of the American Craft Spirits Association.

Kyle Swartz: How do you see the cannabis industry long-term in America, particularly as it relates to alcohol?
Paul Hletko: There’s an awful lot of opportunity for the cannabis industry to grow in the future. And the industry itself could benefit from strong self and external regulation. But there’s a tendency for the cannabis industry to portray alcohol as the bad guy. I don’t think that’s a good or helpful strategy for the cannabis industry, nor does it help further the cannabis cause.

It’s frustrating to be labeled as the bad guy every which way we turn. We’ve been self-regulating responsibly, paying our taxes responsibly, and have been a responsible corporate member for many decades.

The alcohol industry has nothing against the cannabis industry as a whole. Trying to paint one side or the other as the bad guy is counterproductive. Cannabis wants it to be us versus them, but I don’t think that’s helpful. I think cannabis should want us to be neutral towards their industry.

KS: So do you think there’s benefits from the industries working together?
PH: I think there can be. That will continue to develop for the next several years. It’s not going to happen overnight.

The customers for the alcohol industry tend also to be the customers for the cannabis industry — and vice versa. Both industries have the potential to improve the lives of consumers, which is supposed to be the idea.

KS: Will we see a rise in dual consumption, cannabis with alcohol?
PH: I do think one goes with the other.

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