Cannabis and Craft Beer: Beer Brands Fighting Legalization, Here’s What We Know
What we know is that we didn’t know much at all, that is, until now.
by Zane Foley
The adult-use of cannabis and cannabis regulation was legalized across California starting officially on January 1st, 2018 thanks to California’s Proposition 64 passed by voters in November 2016. However, with some of the nation’s largest beer brands and craft beer breweries being located in the Golden State, when the bill’s opposition listed their campaign contributors, several of the largest brands had their names included in the fight against legalization.
Over the years and into 2022, we might have heard that big beer brands like Sierra Nevada were and still are some of the largest contributors to keeping federal cannabis use illegal. But as you will read in this article, it might actually be guilt by association. Because when we take a closer look at the battle of cannabis and beer, we uncover something that started decades ago and with many beer brands never having a choice of which side of the table they sat at.
Before we get into the political nitty gritty, let’s recount the cannabis initiative and how beer brands were supposedly raising funds to oppose its legalization. For starters, the latest Proposition 64 of 2016 was not the first proposition to introduce the legalization of cannabis.
In fact, voters passed California Proposition 215 in 1996, making California the first state to legalize the medical use of cannabis in the United States. With the arena set almost three decades ago, today’s legalization battle continued in 2010 with California Proposition 19, setting the stage for a fight with an initiative that would have allowed individuals over the age of 21 to possess up to one-ounce of marijuana for personal consumption.
While we can imagine why many conservative voters might advocate for the continued illegalization of cannabis, what we might not know is just how ruthless or misguided the roots of opposing legalization endure. For example, did you know marijuana as a term was promoted over cannabis to make the drug [sic] sound more Mexican? And thus, be scarier to white Protestant voters.
It feels especially prudent, as a website that promotes the standard that “Beer is for Everyone” politically, economically, and socially, the legalization of cannabis dramatically affected the incarceration of people of color over white folks. Legalization has always been a social justice issue as well as a socio-economic issue, not just for people of color but the entire United States. We might forget that alcohol once endured a similar fight with prohibition (and we all know how that went).
Okay but why might a beer brand, craft or national, want to oppose the legalization of cannabis? An activity many casual consumers would suggest is on par with alcohol consumption, if not safer and more innocuous.
While California itself became an analogy for a national (even international cannabis debate), the battle for the federal legalization of cannabis is still in full swing. Coincidentally, as recently as March 1st, 2022, the U.S. House voted to decriminalize marijuana in federal law. With opposition from Beer lobbyists still holding true to the fundamental opposition of federal legalization – and for the same reasons.
Simply but profoundly, the alcohol industry (and many other industries for that matter) have long seen marijuana use as one of the number one (if not the number one) threat to sales. In a world where consumers can substitute cannabis for beer, a night spent watching movies or fingerpainting in their living room is a night not spent around the cooler or at the local bar.
Big booze brands see beer versus cannabis as the same battle underway with gas and oil companies against renewable energy and electric cars. For the most part, consumers agree, a legal adult does not have to choose one or the other or even see the two in conflict with their ‘budget’ so to speak.
However, while we see donations to fight legalization as early as 2010, what was hidden in plain sight was that these donations and contributions were more so beer sellers than beer brands. When we take a look at the fine print, we see the initiative for opposition to cannabis legalization has always been seeded by liquor and wine dealers and the pharmaceutical industry, who make up a membership group many large and craft beer companies are a part of for distribution.
What is the membership group called? Have you heard of the California Beer & Beverage Distributors (CBBD)? According to the CBBD website, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors is the largest nonprofit trade association representing brewers, distributors, and retailers of beer in the state of California.
The CBBD has a headquarters in Sacramento and is famously a sponsor of the Rockwell Project. A program using the testimonial of Jim Rockwell, a teenager who caused an infamous automobile accident while driving under the influence of alcohol, to discourage people below the drinking age from using booze.
Well, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors have been spending money since 2010 to oppose marijuana legalization. You can look at the records filed with the California Secretary of State and the names of breweries who are members; such as Sierra Nevada and Stone Brewing Co, microbrews with roots in California who eventually became popular national brands.
This is where the rumor Sierra Nevada is one of the leading contributors to the anti-legalization group, but the beer brand has publicly come out and denied wanting to be in any part of the opposition of cannabis legalization. What you are about to read is literally the statement from Sierra Nevada:
“We’ve been getting lots of calls and emails regarding our stance on California’s Proposition 19-which would legalize marijuana if passed. A beer industry group surprised us by linking our name in with their opposition. We had no idea it was happening and we disagree with their position. We have requested the CBBD to remove our names and also disassociate the brewery from this and any future political actions.
The California Beer and Beverage Distributors (CBBD) came out against California Proposition 19—also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. members of the CBBD.
Although we are members of this organization, we were neither consulted—nor informed of—their decision to take a stand against California Proposition 19. Sierra Nevada’s role as an associate member grants no access or influence on the political agendas of the CBBD, and we had no knowledge of the organization’s intention to fight this ballot proposition.
We regret any implied association with this action by the CBBD, and maintain our independence and neutrality regarding matters of politics.”
Sierra Nevada was not alone announcing their opposition after a severe backlash from public opinion. They were joined by Stone Brewing Co.
This is the San Diego-based microbrewery’s official statement: “Stone is not a part of this campaign in any way. The issue has caught us off guard, we are merely a non-voting allied member of the CA Beer and Beverage Distributors. As such, Stone Brewing does not/cannot participate in the political action decisions of the CBBD.”
Okay, so we have a lot of official finger-pointing but what exactly did the CBBD contribute? While the CBBD have officially declined for comment from the nation’s top sources, what we do know is that the organization donated $10,000 to Public Safety First, a committee organized to oppose the proposition on Sept. 7th, 2010.
Public Safety First is funded by several industries who oppose cannabis legalization, mainly law enforcement. While it would seem intuitive for law enforcement to want less people behind bars, the reality of the situation is state and federal anti-drug funding is a significant part of the budgets of local police forces.
The California Narcotics Officers Association donated over $20,000 to Public Safety First; the California Police Chiefs Association contributed $30,000 with several other police associations matching these contributions across the nation.
Even after the legalization of Cannabis in states like California, Colorado, and Washington, the ongoing prohibition of cannabis is revealing which industries have a vested interest in opposing legalization. And while the rumors have spread that beer brands and craft breweries have opposed its legalization, the fact is that is simply not the case.
If anyone you know, friends or family are celebrating the 4/20 holiday, we encourage you to do so safely and in accordance with your local government. While we certainly believe Beer is for Everyone (of legal drinking age) we know the fight to legalize cannabis for everyone is far from over.