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Monday
Jan012018

Time To Change It Up

My eleventh year at K&L begins in 2018 and with it a new challenge. I'll follow up on that vague statement in just a moment, but before I do let's talk about the other big news in California today: legal marijuana. While I think a certain number of folks are under the impression they can walk into a dispensary and buy weed freely today, that's not the case. Despite the new law that voters passed, we're not even close to that reality yet because of all the bureaucratic restrictions that have been put into place, mirroring many of the strict regulations of the liquor industry. Let's talk a bit about what that means for people because you're witnessing how a controlled market is born and it's fascinating (stay with me here). 

First off, California is still very much writing the rules for legalized pot as it goes. While it's technically legal statewide, cities and counties are being allowed to write their own rules, so you'll have many places where it's completely forbidden (kind of like dry counties in Tennessee). The state is also going to limit the licenses and the locality for each operation, so it's not going to be a retail bonanza by any means. You can't operate anywhere near a school or a park, so dispensaries will likely be clustered in the least restrictive spaces. From what I understand at the moment, there have been no permanent retail licenses given out, only temporary permits that must be renewed after 120 days. The dispensaries that operate under the medical wing of the law are not in play for non-card holders. Despite the hoopla about a big victory for legal weed in California right now, there's so much red tape that many folks are afraid it's only going to motivate more sellers into the black market, rather than out into the open. Weed is legal as of this morning in California, but there are few places you can legally buy it for recreational usage as of right now. 

While the retail side of the budding industry (pardon the pun) is still trying to sort itself out, the growing side of the business is dealing with its own failed expectations. Today's Washington Post article spells a lot of the details out, but the biggest disappointment for many is the fact that California's new law did not cap the volume of each grower as was originally anticipated, meaning the market is open to large corporations to grow huge crops of marijuana. The small farmer/grower movement is what currently makes the market interesting and enticing to many (myself included), but that romantic ideal isn't quite panning out as planned according to some currently in the game. Apparently an important regulation limiting farms to one acre until 2023 (to control quality and competition, allowing for slow and healthy growth) was scrapped from the law at the last minute, seriously pissing off the state's most avid growers and completely changing the potential landscape of the new market. That's not to mention the 45% tax that will be levied on recreational usage, meaning half the profits will go back to the state middlemen. You knew about that, right? 

I'm a big advocate for medical marijuana and I've seen (and felt) its soothing effects first hand. Even though I know it could create havoc for the alcohol industry here, I'm rooting for the market to succeed because I know that marijuana needs educators and ambassadors just like wine and spirits do. The more people learn the real ins and outs of THC, CBD, and all the various strains that help with various ailments (like the general stress of California living), the better off we'll be. However, the new California law doesn't seem to be encouraging some of the more passionate voices in the marijuana community. I thought this was a great quote from the Post article:

“We have this great irony of the people who moved up here because they didn’t want to participate in capitalism. They didn’t want to participate in the greater system, and they’re being asked to jump into it headfirst, and that’s not why they got into this."

That's the thing about industry. Very rarely does it allow much room for passion and harmony. It's mostly about revenue and finding new ways to survive the endless onslaught of expenses and increased competition, which completely eliminates all the romance for many. That's a reality I've had to deal with in the booze game over the last few years, hence I decided that some aspects of my job at K&L are going to change in 2018. Much like some of the aforementioned growers, I didn't get into the alcohol business to become a capitalist, nor did I ever have any intention of working with spirits. My original passion was wine first and foremost and it's wine that I continue to consume in my private life while I write publicly about whiskey and other distilled goods. 

I'm planning to get a little bit of that original passion back this year and it's going to start very soon. Get ready K&L wine club members.

-David Driscoll