Recently, three California agencies released rules on growing and selling cannabis. The regulations, devised by the state’s Department of Health, Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Bureau of Cannabis Control—who knew that even existed? Together, these agencies offer the first glimpse into how things have changed since the sale of recreational marijuana became legal on January 1.
Of particular interest to the northern California Wine Country is that pot-infused wine is not legal to produce or sell. However, there is hope for people who are interested in growing weed on their land. The one-acre restriction has been tossed, suggesting a rush of large cannabis farms is just around the corner.
Of course, things won’t change overnight —with large vineyards being ripped out and replanted with verdant rows of ganja — largely because many local regulators have still not decided on their own views regarding the cultivation and selling of cannabis, which is still considered a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, possession of which can result in a prison term.
But don’t let the hazy semi-legal-in-America nature of pot fool you — there’s going to be a shift in the thinking of California farmers and producers toward marijuana, which is expected to grow from a $10 billion per year business to a more than $50 billion category within the next 10 years. This is in contrast to the current $40 billion market for wine, a product which is slowing in growth.
Comparing pot to grapes
At one point, weed could bring in up to $3 million per acre, but this has shifted down with estimates now hovering in the $1 million per acre range. Expect this to continue to fall, but when—and if—it will ever reach a number equivalent to grape production is something to watch for in the coming years. The 2016 average price per ton for north-coast grapes rose to nearly $3,000, a 5.8 percent increase from 2015. If you are a grower and your plot of 10 acres of grapes produced 40 tons, using the average price you’d bring in $120,000. Plant the same plot in pot and you could bring in $10 million. Even if the price for weed dropped 95 percent, you’d still make more growing pot than you would growing average grapes.
No pot-infused wines
The new rules prohibit the infusion of cannabis into alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and even seafood. Seafood? Who the heck would fuse fish and pot in the first place? I Googled the question and found marijuana-infused smoked salmon was touted by the Huffington Post as the new breakfast rage as far back as 2015. What this means, at least for now, is that wine companies that pinned their growth hopes on double-trouble intoxicants like weed-infused wine will have to come up with another alternative.
I’m sure the folks over at Constellation Brands, the second-largest wine and beer company in the United States (which just purchased a minority stake in Canopy Growth Corp., a medicinal cannabis producer in Ontario, Canada) will find this news a bummer. This is because, according to company documents, they had plans to create test wine-weed products in Canada, presumably in anticipation of the more lucrative U.S. markets. Oh well, Constellation will have to find another way to sell what is just another single intoxicant. Hey, I know, what about if they just start buying up all those underperforming wine-tasting rooms, the number of which has exploded in many downtowns around the state over the last few years. They could transform them into pot-smoking tasting rooms, where customers would come in and test out different weed terroirs, assessing the nuances of flavor and aroma as they got high. Wait. Aren’t Washington state and Colorado already doing this sort of thing?
So here we go, folks. Pull up your big-boy (and big-girl) pants and get ready for what I expect is a game-shifter in Wine Country.
It is similar, I imagine, to all of those fruit-growers back in the 1940s and ‘50s who might have sat around the dinner table enjoying a Gravenstein apple pie and talking about how the neighbors were beginning to plant a few wine grapes here and there.
“The Joneses might be planting grapes, but we’ll be sticking with apples,” this imagined farmer tells his family. “There’s no way you’d ever catch us growing those wicked, alcohol-producing vines.”
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