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Was Dope the First Step to End the ABC?

By: Will Cheek
The Legislature considered curtailing the authority of ABC agents to enforce marijuana laws and eliminate their authority to arrest for criminal drug offenses. This seemingly innocuous change could have been the first step toward eliminating the ABC as a stand-alone agency. The change could have easily impacted the training and pay of ABC agents.

ABC agents have historically been active in marijuana eradication in Tennessee, benefiting from both federal and state funding, and being active in major raids. We presume that marijuana eradication is an important reason behind funding for higher salaries and more-comprehensive training for ABC agents.

The legislation failed this year, but we encourage industry insiders to closely monitor this issue in upcoming legislative sessions. Nationally, many states have considered merging their state ABC into other agencies, largely as a cost saving measure. Liquor experts generally agree that combining ABC functions with other state agencies is bad for the industry. Very bad.

In a heavily regulated industry, having dedicated trained experts in the field is generally seen as a necessary evil. If nothing else, it provides a relatively level playing field for competitors that might otherwise openly break laws to make money, if no one were watching.

With competition driving sales practices, instead of law enforcement, insiders see movement to a more reckless environment that could easily cause major increases in insurance, and eventually to overly restrictive legislative responses. Anyone remember Prohibition?

Eliminating the law enforcement duties of ABC agents simplifies merging the ABC with other state agencies. We saw this as a first step toward eliminating the Tennessee ABC, which from all signs is not good for the alcoholic beverage industry.
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