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Liquor is quicker. Pot is not

Wine

The gap between cannabis and alcohol famously celebrated by poet Ogden Nash is closing quickly in California, Philip White reports.

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“Alcohol and marijuana, if used in moderation, plus loud, usually low-class music, make stress and boredom infinitely more bearable.” – Kurt Vonnegut

So quotes the top of the page of the California-based Wine Industry Network’s (WIN) announcement that it will host an intensive one-day Wine and Weed Symposium in August at Santa Rosa in Sonoma.

The meeting is “dedicated to the legalisation of cannabis and the impact on the wine industry”.

California’s a touch ahead of South Australia in the cannabis business, but we’re wending, as they say, our way along.

While most Oz newshounds were transfixed by the astonishing political chaos surrounding the US Presidency, South Australian Manufacturing Minister Kyam Maher quietly called a round table meeting for the end of this month where “industry groups and companies looking to make things like medicinal cannabis, building products, clothing, textiles and skin-care products” will get together to discuss the viability of “creating an industry”.

“We want to look at what barriers we can remove to the industry and then it will really be up to the market forces to decide whether this crop is a viable and sustainable crop in South Australia,” Maher said.

“Viable?” “Sustainable?” He’s gotta be joking.

The Sonoma symposium arises from a one-hour session WIN ran at its wine conference in Santa Rosa last month.

Rather than kick off as enemies, California’s cannabis and wine industries are keen to work together on their commonalities, “from agriculture and terroir to legal, financial and distribution regulations”.

“People have been questioning the impact that this is going to have on the wine industry for a long time,” said George Christie, WIN president. “This is an opportunity to learn from the experts the cost of entry and what is and is not allowed. We plan to provide a better understanding of the inevitable competition for consumer attention and how best to prepare for what’s coming and what new opportunities might exist.”

Back in Adelaide, Industrial Hemp Association of South Australia president Teresa McDowell voiced optimism that the Government would “move forward with regulatory reforms … If you look at places like Canada, their hemp seed and oil alone export market last year, to September, was $114 million”, she said.

“There are various different industries that industrial hemp can move towards: there are composite materials, automobile composites and bio fuels.”

No mention of the possibility of your, er, actual intoxication in any of the South Australian public discussion, note. Industrial hemp is not for smoking stoners, although wartime sailors have been known to smoke rope.

It appears that some level of intoxication is a given in the California equation.

There, experts from both the wine and cannabis industries will join Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, to discuss California’s new recreational cannabis laws, their regulations and licensing requirements, and their relationship with hospitality, tourism and farming.

“The cannabis and wine industries have more in common than what one might see at first glance,” the WIN announcement continues. “Both are based in rural areas with a major emphasis on agriculture and quality. Place of origin and American Viticulture Area is important in both categories.

Other topics include growing cannabis in vineyards, cannabis and wine hospitality, learning from wineries in states where cannabis is legal, cannabis infused wine, the banking industry and what wine regions can expect in the coming years.

“To a significant degree, they share a common consumer and will be overseen by the same government agency. Like the wine industry, the cannabis industry will also be heavily regulated and because of that, will experience tremendous overlap with regard to legal, financial, compliance and distribution regulations.

“Both will compete for visitor attention and dollars in California’s most notable wine regions like Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Lodi Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz counties, the Sierra Foothills and more.”

This California advancement was to be expected. For years the cannabis media has reported and reviewed marijuana-steeped wines, many of the hippy/neo-Mennonite variety, some more secretively made by respected established winemakers.

Professional outdoor cannabis growers are becoming very serious indeed about terroir, generally making much more precise scientific studies of their site selection than most of the wine industry has ever considered.

Winemakers and viticulturers can learn from these people.

In their marketing, too, US cannabis industry researchers have shown wine scientists their heels in matters like the medicinal influences of the vital various efficacious cannabis terpenes which are also common to much red wine. Are our œnologists embarrassed that some of the most prominent health-promoting components of their product also occur in cannabis?

In Adelaide, we’re still tolerating police raids on folks like Jenny Hallam, who was supplying around 100 patients with medicinal cannabis extracts she’d been making from donated pot. She has never charged her customers and now awaits further news from the courts.

Jenny had been expecting a visit. She told the police there was cannabis and cannabis oil on her premises, used only to treat people who were sick and dying, and that anything the officers removed could result in someone’s death.

She has not been invited to Minister Maher’s meeting. It seems he’d prefer to follow “the best possible expert medical and scientific advice on those pathways”.

Perhaps it’s time we advanced sufficiently to also take the advice of extant practitioners, an embrace the California wine people obviously have no hesitation in making.

There are precedents. The South Australian Government has taken very serious advice from California wine leaders before. The essential 2012 Character Preservation Legislations (McLaren Vale and Barossa), which have put a halt to further urban intrusion into these vital agricultural and wine tourism provinces, were very much steered by what Agriculture and Tourism Minister Leon Bignell learned from the planning authorities he visited in the Napa Valley.

If Minister Maher is seriously keen to remove barriers, perhaps he should be planning with the Agriculture/Tourism Minister an official visit to the WIN Wine and Weed Symposium in August.

The principal barriers, it seems, are his blinkers.

Bring on the market forces.

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