Let’s Regulate Marijuana Like Wine?

Potlikewine If you see a disconnect between the picture on the left and the message superimposed upon it, the supporters of the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative hope that disconnect will instead morph into a logical connection. The supporters of this initiative, who are in the process of trying to gather over 500,000 signatures and raise millions of dollars to put the marijuana decriminalization initiative on the ballot, are employing a fairly sophisticated messaging and branding campaign to help them.

The proposed initiative would explicitly legalize the production, possession and retail sale and distribution of marijuana in California. This has been tried before. In fact, it was tried in 2010 and failed at the ballot box by a mere 4% when it was entitled, "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act". Not unexpectedly, supporters of the repeal of marijuana prohibition are trying again. This time however, both the title of the initiative and the substance of the initiative play off of the successful image of California wine.

The proposed initiative would direct the state to regulate the sale and distribution of marijuana as it does wine. In fact, read this portion of the initiative:

"No later than February1, 2013, the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board shall adopt regulations and procedures, provide and accept forms for the implementation of commercial activity under this Act. Such regulations shall not prohibit marijuana farming, the operation of marijuana establishments or point of sale outlets, either expressly or through regulations that make their operation different than wine or beer regulations and fees, or unreasonably impracticable. Should the Alcohol Beverage Control Board fail to have procedures in effect by this date, it shall use forms presently used for wine and beer, and replace the words wine, beer, alcohol, with the word marijuana, and accept and process those forms within sixty days of submission or approval is automatic."

Here's what's happening.

Supporters of the "Regulate Marijuana Like Wine" initiative are attempting to use the good name and good image of California wine to help upend the counter-culture image of Marijuana. And I can't believe that I'm the only one to imagine that by linking Marijuana to wine, one links the image of marijuana users and wine drinkers, again using the positive image of wine drinkers to upend the not so positive image of marijuana users.  SMART!!

But there's more. By linking the regulation of marijuana to the regulation of wine, the supporters surely hope to link the lunacy of alcohol prohibition to what they surely believe is the lunacy of alcohol Prohibition. Again…SMART!!

To drive my point home, consider the following:

-The initiative is not named "Regulate Marijuana like Beer"—it's not because beer is not seen as the benign beverage that alcohol is. It is seen by many as the binge drink and the drink of choice of minors. BAD

-The initiative is not named "Regulate Marijuana like Whiskey"—Whiskey and other spirits are not seen as benign like wine, but rather as the drink of hard drinkers. Again, BAD.

The folks behind this initiative are working the branding and marketing of this pretty seriously and they are thinking about what they are doing.

If this initiative gets on the ballot in California, we are going to see a series of discussions in the media that start like this: "Is Marijuana really any different than wine?"

Everyone knows it is different than wine, in so many ways. The primary way by which it is different is that the use of marijuana is aimed primarily and firstly at altering one's consciousness. Wine's primary use is not that, but it's an added benefit. But by focusing on how marijuana and wine are alike, the promoters of the initiative will spur conversations about the similarities between Alcohol and Marijuana prohibition. And these are the kinds of conversations you want because alcohol prohibition was not only bad, but also repealed.

There is one element of this proposed initiative that would allow the regulation of the sale and distribution of marijuana in a way that is decidedly unlike the regulation of the sale and distribution of wine:

"This Act prohibits all commercial advertising for sales, distribution, and use of marijuana, except for medical marijuana and products that contain less than a final THC level below 0.3 percent."

In my mind, one either makes marijuana a legal product or you don't. And legal products can be advertised, even if there rare certain restrictions.

I'll be watching to see how this initiative progresses in California and how the marijuana and wine continue to be linked. But one thing I know and that's that the California wine industry is going hate this linking of wine and dope with a a white hot heat. The industry despises the idea of being linked to an illegal drug. They've had to endure this with the anti-alcohol types who have trumpeted the tagline: "Alcohol and Other Drugs". That linkage wasn't meant to be positive. The linkage of "Let's Regulate Marijuana Like Wine is meant to be positive, however. I'm sure the industry doesn't appreciate the turnaround. I expect the Wine Institute, Family Winemakers of California, the Napa Valley Vintners and just about every other wine organization to come out against this initiative if it gets on to the ballot.

And by the way, if anyone thinks it is difficult to treat marijuana just like wine, check out this.

17 Responses

  1. Chicago Pinot - September 7, 2011

    Things to look forward to if this bill ever becomes law:
    The arrival of a new glossy magazine, Cannibis Spectator, featuring lifestyle stories, marijuana pairing (with food, music, cable news chat shows, etc.) and reviews, reviews, reviews, all of course on the trusted 100 bud scale.
    Competitions and credentialing societies to determine your ability to blind smoke and identify different aromas in plants throughout the world. The first Master of Pot will win accolades for his thesis length analysis of Jam Bands – post August 1995.
    And of course, the inevitable accusations from across the pond that the French grow the raw material better, always have, always will.

  2. Karin McKercher - September 7, 2011

    Hot tub. Red wine. Doobie. Or so I’m told.

  3. El Jefe - September 7, 2011

    And what does “commercial advertising” mean? That’s rather poorly worded. Is a web site commercial advertising?

  4. Tom Wark - September 7, 2011

    El Jefe,
    I do believe it is. But who knows. We are still a long way away from seeing this get voted on. First they need to raise a bunch of millions of dollars and find 500,000 signatures.

  5. Alex Andrawes - September 8, 2011

    Nice article Tom. Billions are being spent on the hunt, arrest, and punishment of people growing and selling nationwide, where that money could be saved and flipped around into Billions being made by regulating and taxing it similar to what we do for alcohol. Its something to consider to say the least and it could actually help our neighbors across the border, or at least I hope.

  6. Thomas Pellechia - September 8, 2011

    And to what Alex said can be added the same comments concerning derivatives from poppy, coca, and other plants. In fact, there was a time way back when…
    Some matters in life bring out my libertarian side, especially when I follow the achievements (and failures) of the many people throughout history who buzzed through life on drugs.

  7. Marcia M - September 8, 2011

    While I don’t care whether or not pot can be advertised as ‘legal product,’ I absolutely loathe the fact that the giant pharmaceutical companies can spend gazillions on advertising assorted drugs, sending the costs of those drugs sky high, when a doc prescribes one for you as a ‘legal product.’

  8. vinesNwines - September 8, 2011

    …Everyone knows it is different than wine, in so many ways. The primary way by which it is different is that the use of marijuana is aimed primarily and firstly at altering one’s consciousness. Wine’s primary use is not that, but it’s an added benefit…
    Don’t think a lot of us would drink wine w/o the alcohol. It is important to note the similarity of desirable characteristics for winers and tokers. There is a huge spectrum of flavors, terroir, (Humboldt vs. Santa Cruz vs. Hawaiian for example) hundreds of strains (and their clones) are grown worldwide for specific flavors and aromas (phenolics?)Some are very heady (high THC) others more relaxing (cannabinoids). These traits are maintained through sophisticated breeding and cloning operations worldwide, much like the efforts at grape improvement. In short, there is very much the same type of connoisseur consumer base for cannabis as for wine. It is ignorant to think otherwise.
    Cannabis is a plant that has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and recreational purposes. Responsible laws would permit the liberty of its use by responsible adults in a country that, on the surface, believes in liberty. Most objective studies would suggest that it is a far more benign drug than alcohol – at least in the case of abuse. Because it is not regulated, it is more available to our youth than it would be under the proposed legislation. Those of you who are opposed to the notion can rest assured that it won’t pass because illicit growing is much more profitable. The growers in Humboldt, Mendocino, and other counties mounted quite a local campaign against the prior version in order to maintain prices.
    Regulating cannabis like wine is an extremely logical idea. The regulating entity would already exist, the tax revenues would pay for the additional staff that would be required, a working model already exists, and the revenues would be welcomed to the state’s coffers.
    It is unlikely that the law would withstand scrutiny, due to it’s direct conflict with federal law.
    btw, if you believe that wine growers, wine makers, and the cali wine industry as a whole shuns pot, well then you might not be getting invites to the right parties in Mendo and the Sonoma Coast.
    My guess is that there are many grape growers who have, will, or currently do try their hands at raising world class, grand cru cannabis. Remember the area once had tremendous success raising cannabis’ cousin – hops.
    Thanks for keeping us up to date. Cheers!

  9. Tom Wark - September 8, 2011

    Let me see if I can better state my view of the differences between Pot and wine.
    -I’ve never known any smoker who consumed pot for the taste or aroma. And I’ve known a few. I spent four years at Humboldt State Universtiy.
    -The primary purpose of consuming pot is to get high. That this strain or that clone might taste or smell different or provide a different kind of high is secondary.
    -Wine can be and very often is consumed not for its ability to get one high, but for the way it tastes and smells and for its liquid character. That it gets us high too if taken to excess is…a benefit.
    -One can’t sample pot and not get high.
    -I can sample 50 wines and pass a BAC test.
    Finally, while I believe there may be one or two members of the wine industry who may have sampled pot in their day, I can promise you that the organizations that represent the wine industry oppose the association of Pot with wine.

  10. Kathy - September 9, 2011

    whats really scary is the violence occurring in our forests and remote areas where illegal pot growing operations have been set up. i spoke with a land owner in Calistoga (yes, Calistoga – which is not so remote) who has just over 100 acres. he encountered two men in full camouflage with guns on his property who were using it to grow pot. his story ends well and the feds swooped in with the helicopter shortly afterward and chopped up the plants. but others have not been so lucky.
    imagine if this law passes in california and no where else in the country. i can foresee more land being hijacked by drug cartels to grow pot for sale everywhere else. no ramifications suffered for them, but lots for us.
    p.s. i am actually for legalization of marijuana but it has to be done on a national level which won’t happen in a million years. hell, we still can’t ship wine to utah.
    p.s.s. their attempted positioning of “pot = same thing as wine” won’t fly with anyone with even just two synapses firing.

  11. vEv - September 9, 2011

    There is at least one company, with one giant foot in tobacco and its pinky toe dabbling in wine, ready and waiting to swoop in if marijuana becomes legalized. What a pipe dream come true for them. They might even be supporting the initiative somewhere in the dark recesses of a PAC.

  12. Morton - September 9, 2011

    My first reaction regarding putting the ABC bureacracy in control of cannibis is “be careful of what you wish for.” But anything is better than the status quo.
    The issue is far more serious than whether I have to pay a pot doctor $100 bucks every so often to re-new my prescription. We see only a small bit of what conflict our prohibition has created. Sorry, but running in to a couple guys guarding a pot garden is child’s play.
    Fred Reed is an ex-pat living in Mexico. His views and politics run the gamut of far left to far right and often in the middle, always with irony. But his recent post on what is going on in his previously sleepy Mexican town is a glimpse of the downhill spiral Mexico and eventually the U.S. will experience. I recommend it. It’s time for us to wake up to what we are doing to others.

  13. Jordan Theakston - September 9, 2011

    There are some major discrepancies with regard to regulation of wine or cannabis.
    The most glaring difference would have to be with regards to regulation to minors. A minor could not practically for all intents and purposes make and consume wine. However any child with a seed and a watering can could grow and consume cannabis. That plain and simple reason alone makes discussion on this issue irrelevant.
    For the argument that people smoke pot to get high, but that wine is consumed for “aroma, flavor etc. etc.” well, it is relatively simple to make non alcoholic wine, and there is not a single avid wine consumer that would even give such a product momentary consideration. People do not drink vodka for the flavor! and very few wine drinkers drink wine purely for the mystical and magical flavor experience that they pretend to experience. Admit it, it is a drink!
    For those claiming that marijuana is medicinal? Hardly……..marijuana does not cure anything, and it is not the reason that this is their treatment of choice. Give the pot consumer a non consciousness altering pill with the same curative qualities and they will decline.
    So………what should or shouldn’t be regulated? These are decisions to be made by sober legislators and lawmakers and not by the avidly consuming public.

  14. Viticulturist - September 11, 2011

    Very intelligent move on their part! Wine epicures in general are depicted as sophisticated, contributing members to society.
    If for no other reason, I’d recommend decriminalizing marijuana for the purpose of regulating it, which would allow taxation and certainly decrease associated criminal activity.

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    I recommend it. It’s time for us to wake up to what we are doing to others…Good blog..keep sending like this good information

  16. James Moylan - December 5, 2011

    Thank you for providing such wonderfully incisive commentary on the Treat Marijuana Like Wine movement.
    We have provided a link to this article from several of our pages as it is of oustanding quality.
    Jim Moylan
    Treasurer – HEMP Party Australia

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