While some have suggested that wine and marijuana are merely substitutes for each other, others vehemently disagree with that notion, thus fueling heated debate. Of primary concern is whether the recreational use of marijuana will cause a reduction in wine consumption. Winemakers fear the entire wine industry in California could experience a slump in sales that may impact every aspect from employment and job growth to the price of a bottle at retail. Similar concerns are being addressed right here in the Bay State.
I spoke recently with Robert Mellion, executive director and general counsel for the Massachusetts Package Store Association. According to his organization, there’s been a recognition within the alcohol beverages industry that recreational cannabis is probably going to be nationalized within the next couple of years. As he indicated, “In accepting that this growing industry will keep expanding, and siphoning consumer dollars away from independent retailers of alcohol, it is important that we level the playing field. In doing so, we are advocating for the marijuana industry to be regulated under a framework similar to the alcohol industry’s ‘three-tier’ system. For over 85 years the so-called three-tier system has consistently been able to prevent adulterated product from getting to the marketplace, made a lot of money for states like Massachusetts and has balanced consumer interests with public safety.”
Mellion continued, “We are also asking the state Legislature to clarify the liability of a liquor store when someone is impaired by marijuana. Currently liquor stores are banned from selling alcohol to ‘intoxicated’ people, but the law does not specify the substance causing the intoxication, and liquor store clerks have no means as of yet to identify dangerously stoned people. On its face this may seem comical, but when the lawsuits start flying I assure you that no one at the package store will be laughing.”
Proponents of legal pot suggest that it’s safer than alcohol and therefore a healthier alternative. Evidence supporting that claim is perhaps speculative and premature at this point. In states where recreational marijuana is legal, some wineries are hedging their bets by developing cannabis-infused wine – yes, wine made with pot. This so-called piggybacking of wine and weed may be an attempt to stem the tide. If so, only time will tell as to the impact it will have on the wine industry as a whole.