Let’s Regulate Marijuana Like Wine?
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.