Rebel Coast Winery announced this week the launch of the world’s first cannabis-infused, alcohol-removed wine. The company’s THC-infused Sauvignon Blanc, available only in California, will hit dispensary shelves in 2018.
According to the press release, they plan to be fully compliant with California’s new regulations for the cannabis industry, hence the lack of alcohol in the product, which is a requirement under the state’s new manufacturing rules. “Rebel Coast’s grapes are grown in Sonoma County – California’s wine capital – and fermented through a traditional winemaking process,” reads the press release. “Rebel Coast removes the wine’s alcohol and infuses each bottle of its premium Sauvignon Blanc with 16 milligrams of organic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)…” In addition to the THC infusion, they also add terpenes to the final product, giving it the cannabis fragrance.
According to Alex Howe, co-founder of Rebel Coast, the winery is in Sonoma, but they’re waiting to see where they’ll be licensed to extract, infuse and package the final product. “The winery is in Sonoma, we make the wine, and remove the alcohol there,” says Howe. “We’re currently waiting for licensing transfer approval in two locations, one in San Bernardino, the other West Sacramento, and exploring an option to infuse in San Benito County with a currently licensed location.” They plan to co-package under a third party license and seek a Type N license for extraction with non-volatile solvents.
Rebel Coast has partnered with a fully licensed outdoor grower, and is looking for an extractor that will be able to handle their volume needs. With regard to their infusion and extraction process, Howe says they combine clear distillate with a surfactant to make the THC liquid soluble and fast acting.
He expects the full infusion and packaging operations to be up and running by early 2018. “The San Bernardino and West Sacramento locations were previously licensed for infusion, packaging, and manufacturing, but with purchase of the building, the change in ownership has caused us to wait for the license to change ownerships too.”
“We’ve continued our disruptive approach to craft the world’s first cannabis-infused, alcohol-free wine,” says Chip Forsythe, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rebel Coast. “We wanted to excite the rebellious spirit in Americans through innovation, so we took two world-class California products – marijuana and wine – and created a proprietary process that resulted in a delicious, crisp and elegantly crafted Sauvignon Blanc that’s teed up to be a game changer for the wine and cannabis industries.”
They plan to start shipping product in early 2018, as well as distribute to over 500 dispensaries throughout the state, via Green Reef Distributing, a licensed cannabis distributor that represents wine and spirit accounts for other CBD products. Later in 2018, Rebel Coast plans on rolling out cannabis-infused Rosé and champagne, as well as CBD-infused wines. In the press release the company teases their products will be available in other legal states in the coming months.
You’ve heard it in a lot of campaigns to legalize cannabis on a state level and even as the name of a bill in Congress for legalization on the federal level. The Marijuana Policy Project through their campaigns in several states, along with activists, politicians and lobbyists, have used the phrase “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” as a rallying cry to pass legislation reforming cannabis laws. This isn’t an attack on them; those campaign names serve the cause well, moreover it was the name of successful campaigns in Massachusetts, Maine, California, Alaska and Colorado among others. It is a relatable and fair comparison, helping to normalize the concept of adults using cannabis in a legal environment.
But that feeling of validation is short-lived after lawmakers write the actual regulations. In reality, I don’t think a single state can confidently say they actually regulate cannabis like alcohol. Most states do not allow public or social consumption of cannabis; many people that would like to enjoy cannabis in a social setting are restricted to the confines of their home.
Voters in Colorado passed Amendment 64 in 2012 with this language in the very beginning of the bill: “In the interest of the health and public safety of our citizenry, the people of the State of Colorado further find and declare that marijuana should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.” If you look closely, you can see how important phrasing is when it comes to the specific regulations. The key words here are “a manner similar to alcohol,” not exactly like alcohol. That language is critical to understanding how regulators address the double standard.
The most obvious way lawmakers regulate cannabis like alcohol is through a tiered system of license holders: manufacturers, distributors or wholesalers and retailers. Many states might set a limit on potency, just like they do with alcohol, according to Pamela S. Erickson, former executive director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Both of the drugs are taxed and there are usually regulations for both governing the advertising of products, such as preventing targeting youth or encouraging high consumption. Regulators might limit the store hours or locations for both cannabis and alcohol. Beyond those similarities, there are a number of areas where cannabis is over-regulated and alcohol is seemingly under-regulated. It is very possible that much of this has to do with the power of the alcohol lobby. In 2016, the alcohol industry spent over $26 million on lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, nonpartisan group that tracks lobbying efforts. During election season, the alcohol industry spent more than $11 million on campaign contributions. There are several examples of the alcohol industry actively fighting legalization efforts, including paying for anti-cannabis ads in a Politico newsletter and even funding opposition campaigns. While this doesn’t exactly pertain to the regulation of cannabis versus alcohol, it gives you a glimpse of how deep their coffers go and the amount of influence they have on politics.
Last year, the city of Denver passed a ballot measure, Initiative 300, which will legalize the social consumption of cannabis in permitted venues. The Denver Social Consumption Advisory Committee met for the final time last week. That committee designed two styles of permits: one for events and one for established businesses, which would receive a designated consumption area permit (DCA). Those permitted venues must be 1,000 feet from schools, child-care centers or drug rehabilitation centers. They need a waste plan, compliance with the Indoor Air Quality Act and they cannot sell cannabis products. Rachel Gillette, attorney in the cannabis law group and shareholder at Greenspoon Marder, says the legal implications of the initiative are still up in the air. “This was a step in the right direction,” says Gillette. “You can’t pass a law to regulate marijuana like alcohol and then say people can only use it in their home. You are going to run into problems like people smoking on the street. This is why this initiative was introduced.”
The general idea here is B.Y.O.P.- bring your own pot. They cannot have a liquor license, the location cannot be accessible to the general public, they have to submit a detailed security plan and patrons have to sign a waiver to get in, according to Westword. Signing a waiver to get into a bar should seem asinine to anyone, but I have been to some dive bars where a waiver could’ve definitely been useful. The point is that cannabis doesn’t lead to violence or destructive behavior, alcohol is the drug that does that. There is plenty of evidence to support that, including a comparative risk assessment of the drugs, which found alcohol’s danger to be strongly underestimated previously.
Senate Bill 63 in the Colorado State legislature would have been very similar, issuing licenses for “marijuana consumption clubs.” However that bill was voted down last Thursday, largely due to the uncertainty of federal policy, according to ABC News.
Amendment 64 also has specific language saying you cannot consume cannabis in a public space, but that is not exactly the case with liquor, even when you consider open container and public intoxication laws. “In my previous interactions with the state and particularly the liquor licensing authority, they consider liquor-licensed premises to be de facto public spaces but you can’t consume cannabis there, which is why hotels, bars and restaurants explicitly prohibit cannabis consumption, they have a liquor license,” says Gillette. “There is a bit of conflict in the law here.”
Yet other rules, such as mandatory childproof containers for cannabis retailers, seem a bit draconian compared with buying a bottle of twist-off wine from the grocery store. “Childproof packaging isn’t required in liquor stores anywhere,” says Gillette. “Why cant responsible adults be trusted to keep it out of a child’s reach? Unfortunately there is a lot of trepidation to allow responsible adults to be responsible when it comes to cannabis.” In some ways, we are seeing states begin to regulate cannabis very closely to how they would alcohol, yet there is a long way to go. “There is still this nanny state mentality where we run the risk of regulating it to the point of absurdity,” says Gillette. For now at least, we need to be cognizant of the age-old stigma and work to normalize social cannabis use in a legal sense. Until that time comes, we will have to tolerate lawmakers regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, not exactly like alcohol.
While MPP has been active at both the federal and state level, Matt Schweich, director of state campaigns for the organization, works in a handful of states to pass bills through state legislatures. In particular, Schweich’s work has put an initiative on the ballot in Nevada, and MPP is working with a coalition of groups on an initiative in California, both of which are scheduled for 2016.
In both Massachusetts and Arizona, Schweich and his team are leading the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaigns, where they manage political committees and lobby for legalization.
“We named the campaign [Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol] because we want that to be the central message to the voter,” says Schweich. “We need to get the message across that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it makes no sense to punish users of marijuana.”
“It is common sense to understand that one is less harmful to the user and society in general, [and] in light of the fact that alcohol is legal, it makes no sense to keep marijuana illegal,” he adds.
According to Schweich, voters in their respective states should be given the independence to decide how to handle licensing and regulations, depending on the jurisdiction, just like state liquor laws.
On a national level, MPP has a federal policy team currently working on the fight for marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and financial services.