Op-Ed: Alcohol Not Out to Harsh Marijuana's Buzz

FILED AUGUST 10, 2016

If you've been paying attention to industry news this week, there's a good chance you've seen the mainstream articles proclaiming "Big Alcohol is Working to Undermine Marijuana Legalization, Wikileaks Confirms." Normally we don't pay attention to such noise, which seems to have originated at marijuana.com, but we couldn't let this one slide because not only does it offend our journalistic sensibilities (read: brazen clickbait) it's also plainly inaccurate at times.

If you haven't read it yet, what they've basically done is throw up a splashy headline claiming the alcohol industry is trying to squelch the legalization of marijuana. Then the only evidence they provide is the discovery of an advertisement in the Politico publication's newsletter from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association that says:

"A message from Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America: While neutral on the issue of legalization, WSWA believes states that legalize marijuana need to ensure appropriate and effective regulations are enacted to protect the public from the dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana.

23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana while Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and D.C. have legalized possession and recreational use. In the years since the state legalized medicinal use, Colorado law enforcement officials have documented a significant increase in traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana.

Congress should fully fund Section 4008 of the FAST Act (PL 114-94) in the FY 2017 Appropriations process to document the prevalence of marijuana impaired driving, outline impairment standards and determine driving impairment detection methods."

[SIDEBAR: This section of the FAST Act titled Marijuana-Impaired Driving, would take a closer look at how marijuana use impacts the ability to drive. If enacted, a study would be conducted with an end-goal in mind to make recommendations on ways to train law enforcement to detect levels of impairment, create an impairment standard and methodologies for data collecting on the "prevalence and effects" of marijuana-impaired driving.]

Confused on how advocating for "appropriate and effective regulations" for marijuana undermines the legalization efforts? Us too. The SF Gate also alludes to "surreptitious and underhanded" internal messages to the Democratic National Convention from Big Alcohol, but the reader is supposed to take their word for it because none of them are included. Nor did our own Wikileaks search turn up anything damning on WSWA.

The marijuana.com article suggests WSWA advocates for a three tier system for cannabis so that its members can "grab a piece of the profits." This may be the most realistic assessment on this topic. There are certainly some alcohol wholesalers out there interested in the idea of taking on marijuana, but then there would be no reason for them to try to hamper the legalization of the product.

ON THE HORN WITH CRAIG WOLF. After reading the articles, your editors got WSWA chief Craig Wolf on the horn to ask a few questions.

Craig tells WSD: "We've never wanted to get into a fight with marijuana," and the headline of these articles are "absolutely inaccurate." As the aforementioned Politico ad states, WSWA doesn't have a preference on whether marijuana is legalized or not, but the association does believe "those that are seeking legalization, [who] want to bring their product into the free market and want to be a part of commerce in the United States... should be responsible and embrace appropriate regulation of their product because it's the right thing to do."

He continues: "There's no secret about it. We've been lobbying on this issue for some time now. We're open about our positions on this. We've written to governors and attorneys general… and said 'We're neutral on legalization, but if you're going to do it, it ought to be properly regulated.'" In fact, WSD covered several of those letters [see WSD 02-04-2015].

WSWA's position has never been "Don't regulate us," because the alcohol industry "understands people can abuse our products," says Craig. "You think that it would be non-controversial to say that law enforcement should have the appropriate tools to make sure that people don't get into drugged driving incidents, or don't drive impaired by marijuana."

Furthermore, Craig sees no reason why marijuana and alcohol have to be at odds. "We've encouraged [the marijuana industry] to speak to us, and we're happy to speak to them and we hope they understand our perspective on this."

For a full statement from WSWA, click here.

CASTLE BRANDS REPORTS SLOW START TO FY2017

Castle Brands reported a net sales growth of 1.3% to $6.7 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017 ended June. Goslings Rum sales were up 7.6% for the quarter, while Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer reported strong sales growth of 27.6%. The year is off to a slow start, but the first quarter is "typically our slowest period," according to chief Richard Lampen.

Looking ahead, Castle Brands has several things in the pipeline. For instance, "several additional" releases can be expected for its Jefferson's brand, as well as the launch of Goslings Gold Seal. "Improved bottom line and substantial unused debt capacity position us to continue to add to our bourbon reserves to support Jefferson's as opportunities arise," says Richard.

WSD BRIEFS:

WAL-MART SCOOPS UP JET.COM FOR A COOL $3 BILLION. Wal-mart is set to acquire Jet.com, an online retailer, for $3 billion in cash, plus $300 million in Wal-mart shares, reports Progressive Grocer. The Jet.com purchase "will build on the significant foundation already in place to serve customers across the Wal-mart app, site and stores, and position the company for even faster e-commerce growth in the future by expanding customer reach and adding new capabilities," says the retail giant. Jet.com co-founder and ceo Marc Lore will now head Wal-mart's online division. The purchase is expected to close by the end of the year, pending regulatory approval.

BULLDOG GIN TURNS ITS ATTENTION TO US AND UK. After pulling focus from the US and UK due to the gin craze in Spain, Bulldog Gin has decided to put its attention and money back to the two regions, per Drinks International. "Now that Spain is ticking over we can invest that money in other markets," says UK brand development manager James Coston. Moreover, Hendrick's is seen as its "direct competitor" and Bulldog is "now trying to replicate that [Hendrick's] success," according to James.

TEQUILA HERRADURA LAUNCHES GLOBAL AD CAMPAIGN for its Tequila Herradura Ultra (srp $60) with the tagline "Sound of Smoothness." The campaign includes a behind-the-scenes video, social media engagement, along with being featured on streaming services such as Hulu and Spotify and on search services like Foursquare. It will rollout globally throughout 2016, per a release.

UTAH-BASED HIGH WEST DISTILLERY RELEASES VALLEY TAN WHISKEY. The name and whiskey were inspired by the spirit distilled by Mormon pioneers in the mid-1800s. Valley Tan is only available in the distillery's home state at a suggested retail price of $50 a 750 ml.

2017 WINE & SPIRITS SUMMIT EARLY BIRD PRICING - The Wine & Spirits Daily Summit will be held at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego Jan 30-31, 2017. Come a couple days early and get special discount pricing to attend the Beer Industry Summit on January 29-30. Register and learn more here.

Until tomorrow,
Your Editors

Emily Pennington - emily@winespiritsdaily.com
Sarah Barrett - sarah@winespiritsdaily.com

"The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today." -- Elbert Hubbard

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