What Do California Wine Grapes and California Marijuana Have in Common?

Weintraub Tobin

When a winery wants to tell consumers the geographic source of its wine, it includes on the label the wine’s “appellation of origin.”  An appellation of origin tells the consumer where the wine grapes were grown.  Appellations are either the name of a county or state, or a federally-recognized growing region called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).  California has 138 AVAs.  The value of an AVA designation is significant; it increases the amount a winemaker can charge for the wine.  Consumers will pay much more for a Napa Valley Cabernet than a California Cabernet.

The drafters of The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (the “Act”) borrowed this concept from the wine industry playbook.  The Act added California Business and Professions Code section 26063 which states:

(a) The Bureau [of Marijuana Control] shall establish standards for recognition of a particular appellation of origin applicable to marijuana grown or cultivated in a certain geographical area in California.

(b) Marijuana shall not be marketed, labeled, or sold as grown in a California county when the marijuana was not grown in that county.

(c) The name of a California county shall not be used in the labeling, marketing, or packaging of marijuana products unless the marijuana contained in the product was grown in that county.

On April 5, 2017 Governor Jerry Brown issued a number of proposed changes to the Act including proposing that the California Department of Food and Agriculture take responsibility for establishing marijuana appellations of origin by January 2020.

It is reasonable to presume that the Department of Food and Agriculture will enact regulations that mimic the Federal wine labeling regulations established by the Alcohol Tobacco and Tax Trade Bureau and the regulatory scheme currently in place for California’s wine industry.  If this were to be the case, it would be safe to assume that California law will require that marijuana or any marijuana product listing an appellation of origin must be 100% from California, and that 85% must be from the county in California or other appellation listed.  It is also safe to assume that the Department of Food and Agriculture will begin working with growers and growing groups to establish the growing regions similar to AVAs.

Certain growers have already recognized the value of establishing unique appellations.  For example, the Mendocino Appellations Project is seeking to establish ten appellations within Mendocino County:  Spyrock-Bell Springs, Covelo-Dos Rios, Long Valley-Branscomb-Leggett, Willits, Comptche, Ukiah Valley, North Mendocino Coast, South Mendocino Coast-Greenwood Ridge, Anderson Valley-South Mendocino, and Potter Valley.  Justin Calvino from the Mendocino Appellations Project believes that Mendocino could become the Napa of cannabis.  What area will be the Sonoma of cannabis?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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