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We could potentially end up with one Treasury Department official functioning as the marijuana label czar

The question may sound absurd but I assure you it is very serious. After all this is currently how it works for beer labels in the United States.

Tim Mak at the Daily Beast has a fascinating article about the one guy in the federal government who approves or rejects almost every new beer label in the country and the weird rules he needs to apply. From Daily Beast:

Any brewery that wants to market its wares in this country needs to get it through Kent “Battle” Martin, giving the federal official extraordinary power. With only vague regulations outlining what is and isn’t permissible, he approves beer bottles and labels for the Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, a section of the Treasury Department. [...]

This year, Battle has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels, the only fact his press handler would provide. The TTB would not even provide basic biographical details about the famed regulator, much less make him available for an interview.

As marijuana moves from prohibition to legalization this is exactly the type of seemingly minor but important regulatory decisions we will need to make. What will the packaging restrictions be? How will they be implemented? Who will ultimately be the judge of what does and doesn’t fit the rules?

Given that one of the biggest slogan for the legalization movement is “regulate marijuana like alcohol,” we could potentially end up with one Treasury Department official functioning as the marijuana label czar approving the packaging design for every marijuana product on the market.

With the legal marijuana framework just starting to be built this is a critical time to learn from our history of alcohol regulation and possibly make improvements. It is often easier to build things right the first time than to change them later. Systems tend to develop an inertia of their own.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy