By Emily Earlenbaugh
In California, elegant wine and weed dinners are becoming a popular trend and you might think that winery owners would be in an ideal position to host such events. But could these decadent pairings of cannabis and fine wine be ending just as they are beginning to take off? In an ironic twist, the same regulations that now allow for legal recreational cannabis also restrict this recreational pairing. For event planners, wineries and brands who threw these events or utilized these events for marketing purposes, this presents a huge challenge.
If you are planning your own wine and weed event, read this first.
The Golden Age of Wine & Weed
The last few years in California have been a golden age for wine and weed. We’ve seen infused wine brands emerge, the creation of the Wine and Weed Symposium, and an array of upscale cannabis and wine pairings, dinners and other events.
“For the vendors this was an opportunity to be at an intimate setting that wasn’t a trade show or conference and they could meet people that enjoy their product,” explains Randy Yap, Marketing Manager for Cannalign who sponsored Harvest Nights, a Santa Rosa, CA networking event featuring both wine and weed. “The reaction I’m getting from people is the pure joy of a new a new stage of freedom – being able to be out in public and enjoy cannabis with people who enjoy alcohol the same way.”
Far from the dangerous situation regulators seem to be worried about, these elegant affairs usually featured small amounts of both substances, paired with gourmet meals or networking opportunities. “I would offer pairings with wine or cocktails for the diners and the private guests, never to a point of inebriation but just to improve and accentuate the dining experience,” recalls LA Chef and Mixologist Holden Jagger, who has been hosting these paired and infused dinners for the last two years.
Still, despite their popularity, events like these may become a thing of the past…at least for now.
New Regulations Limit Events Significantly
For those looking to throw wine and weed events “The situation is not ideal, to say the least,” says Rebecca Stamey-White, an attorney specializing in the wine and cannabis industries. “The options are not really intended to permit the consumption of both alcohol and cannabis on the same premises.”
Hilary Bricken, an attorney who specializes in emerging industries and corporate law, explains that “to be able to throw an event relative to cannabis, you really only have one option under state law and it’s to receive a cannabis temporary event permit,” but these are not easy to obtain. “It’s got to be in the context of an agricultural association event or a county fair,” says Bricken, adding that “in order to get the permit, you have to be a licensee already and it’s heavily restricted regarding what you can do at that event. Alcohol and tobacco cannot be provided.”
This is a big change for wine and weed event hosts. “In the past, it was mainly just making sure everyone was 215 verified and over 21,” says Samantha High, an event planner who has thrown private high-end wine and weed dinners at vineyards. High says she is refocusing her event planning on weddings, now that wine and weed events have become so restricted. She isn’t the only one shifting gears.
Both Yap and Jagger say they are holding off planning more wine and weed events until the legal situation becomes more clear. “With everything that’s happening with the crackdown on cannabis and the new the rules and regulations we’re afraid that hosting these events could result in us going to jail,” explains Yap.
Jagger mirrors these sentiments saying that “the regulations are making us take a step back and play by a set of rules that aren’t necessarily in the business’ best interests or in the consumer’s best interests but really in the best interests of these regulatory bodies, now grasping with how to deal with this product.”
Private Events Only
While public wine and weed events (events advertised to and open to the public) are clearly prohibited, it is still legal to host private parties with wine and weed. Could this be a loophole that allows wine and cannabis brands to continue hosting these events? Some say yes.
“I believe that the new California regulations will spur a shift to “private” events in lieu of larger weed and wine festivals,” predicts Eric Lujan, founder of cannabis brand Craft 1861. “Private events provide industry innovators the flexibility needed to deliver an uncompromised artisanal experience.”
But regulatory experts warn that this may be a dangerous route. “Definitely proceed with caution,” says Bricken, “with the marketing of that kind of event, if you want it to go beyond essentially a house party or a private dinner with friends, you are wading to seriously precarious territory.”
Even if an event isn’t directly open to the public, “anything involving sales or a commercial purpose like marketing certain products and involving consumers, it is going to be highly regulated” explains Stamey-White, adding “there are ways to start thinking about how to do these events, but I think the best way would be to go to the legislature and actually build out more events with consumers directly into the code.”
While the guests of these events are unlikely to wind up in trouble. For event hosts who violate the rules, Bricken says, “It’s everything from civil penalties to criminal actions depending on the egregiousness of the conduct.”
The Future of Wine & Weed Events
Wine & weed events may slow down as event host reconsider the risks, and work on persuading the regulators to shift their stance. Still, it is likely regulations will eventually include provisions for these kinds of events. “I would think that regulators are malleable because of private interest lobbying and I’m sure they’re getting hammered all the time. I do think it could change over time as we do get that data regarding who’s using what and why and when. But it’s not in the immediate future,” says Bricken.
In the meantime, those who want to bring wine and cannabis together may have to do so in more creative ways. While wineries that have been permitted to sell alcohol can’t host cannabis events “there actually are options for being on say, a vineyard, if that area isn’t licensed for the production and sale of wine,” explains Stamey-White, “you would be able to potentially do cannabis events.” Still, these events could not legally provide both wine and cannabis.
Bricken points out that another option could be private parties where everyone brought their own cannabis, like a weed swap party, “If there happened to be alcohol there I really think it’s a situation that the state cannot effectively police.”
Still none of these options allow for the events that people really want to see. Vendors want to be able to market by providing products at these events, and consumers want to go to an event where wine and weed is already blended into a curated experience. “A big part of what I do is, unfortunately, ruining marketing plans,” jokes Stamey-White, “people come up with creative event ideas, but if you ask the regulators, there just isn’t really a great legal way to produce them.”
For now, at least, these kinds of events won’t be legally permitted.
Rebecca Stamey-White will be a featured speaker discussing Wine & Weed Events on August 2nd at the 2nd Annual North Coast Wine & Weed Symposium.