The tiny Northern California town of Weed is home to Mt. Shasta Brewing Co., makers of Weed Ales. The town was named for its founder, Abner Weed. Since the other, more notorious kind of weed is illegal, Mt. Shasta had crowns printed up that read “Try Legal Weed.” Sure, it was a bit of cheek, but all in good fun. Of course, the TTB, who approves what goes on beer labels and such at the federal level, didn’t agree and told the brewery they had to remove the offending crowns because it violated a vague policy against referencing illegal drug use. Of course, given a moment’s thought, reason, common sense and a familiarity with grammar should suggest that what they were saying was exactly the opposite: they wanted people to NOT buy illegal weed but instead spend their money on the legal kind, their beer that is. Like most businesses, they’d like to turn a profit and make a living so it’s hard to understand why the TTB would think they were trying to encourage buying a product other than the one they were selling.
|At this year’s Boonville Beer Festival, I listened to Vaune Dillmann chronicle his ordeal with the federal agency in great detail, and marveled at how detached from reality our government can be from time to time. I think that’s the way with most, if not all, bureaucracies. They tend to concentrate their own power in ever narrowing ways so that over time they come to have an internal logic that becomes increasingly detached from the rest of society. There are countless examples at both the state and federal level where oversight on labels has been maddeningly ridiculous. But one thing was clear from listening to Dillmann; he was not going to roll over and intended to fight the ruling. You can read his initial account of the story on their website.
Countless mainstream news outlets spread the story, which further showed our federal government in an increasingly bad light. Last month, there was an even a story about it in the Libertarian magazine Reason. Author Greg Beato pointed out that there is a perfume called Opium, soft drinks called Coke, energy drinks called Fixx, Bong Water, Buzzed, Speed Freak, and even Cocaine! And not one of those required any federal approval whatsoever. But add alcohol, and suddenly everyone loses their collective minds. Or as Robert Lehrman, an alcohol attorney sees it. “I don’t think they like making all these immensely subjective decisions on every cotton-picking label that comes down the pike. But that’s how the legislature set it up. The government decided that liquor’s taboo and therefore needs restrictions beyond those for food generally.” You have to ask why that should be so, especially when so many other beverages, foods and other goods openly exploit the very subject that TTB want to protect consumers from when it’s associated with beer. But more curiously, the prohibition against drug references came not from Congress, but is the result of a 1994 internal memo that set “new guidelines for socially acceptable labeling.” But it’s entirely unclear how restricting so-called allusions to drugs protects anyone, especially when every other product sold in America is under no such similar restrictions. Not to mention that alcohol can only be legally sold to adults, and why do we need to protect adults from language that might make some passing reference to drugs? I mean, so what? Does the government believe as an adult that I can’t handle it if I read words about drugs? Do they think I’ll be unable to resist actually trying illegal drugs from simply seeing a reference to them on a bottle of beer? If I haven’t done so from seeing drug references on cologne, soda pop, energy drinks and god knows what else, what makes them think beer will push me over the edge into a drug induced lifestyle? I’m simply baffled at the inanity of it all.
Dallimann was prepared to fight the ruling, but his initial appeal was denied. He was in the process of contacting his legislators and consulting with attorneys, but then, late last week, the TTB dispatched a registered letter to Weed, California, telling the brewery they could once more put “Try Legal Weed” on their bottle caps. They gave the following rationale. “Based on the context of the entire label, we agree that the phrase in question refers to the brand name of the product and does not mislead consumers.” I’d like to believe that the TTB honestly thought about their ruling and based their reversal on reason, but it seems more likely that they didn’t count on all the publicity that sprouted up like … well, weeds. Dallimann shared the letter with the Associated Press, who wrote a story detailing the end of the dispute.