In the Doghouse

Heineken’s Pot Beer Smoke Screen

To public health advocates burnt by fighting against toxic industries, the legal marijuana landscape has two big pitfalls in it:

  1. The creation of a marijuana industry with the wealth and political clout to flout and defang all harm prevention policies.
  2. The cooption of the marijuana industry by companies that already have the wealth and political clout to flout and defang all harm prevention policies.

Hi-Fi Hopsalso seriously you guys Lagunitas was a massive brewer that is now owned by a global brewer they arent craft no way no how, the new foray into drinkable cannabis from Heineken, shows every sign of the latter. The product, sold under Heineken’s phony-craft Lagunitas label, intentionally circumvents California labeling and licensing restrictions intended to separate the marijuana and alcohol marketplaces. According to guidance issued by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, retailers cannot sell both alcohol and marijuana in the same location, nor can they sell cannabis-infused alcohol products.

These simple and straightforward rules did nothing to deter Heineken. Its Hi-Fi Hops product features the Lagunitas label and carbonated water produced by Lagunitas, but has THC and CBD added in by a second company (Cannacraft, headed up by CEO Bill Silver, founder of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University). Since the drink is alcohol-free and the cannabinoids are added in at a second location, Heineken obeys the letter of the law while showing contempt for the spirit.

Separating alcohol from cannabis helps both denormalize alcohol and discourage the mixing of the two. The harm from the latter is obvious and well-documented: mixing alcohol and marijuana is more incapacitating and dangerous than using either alone. The harm from normalization, however, is more pervasive.

Normalization is Big Alcohol’s lifeblood. They can only continue to sell more product if people drink in more situations and/or more heavily than they used to. This is why we are seeing a constant chipping away at the firewalls between alcohol service and day-to-day life: persistent efforts to roll back advertising restrictions, extend last call hours, and facilitate serving alcohol on school campuses, among other recent legislative eyesores.

Having consumers associate alcohol with marijuana use has an added benefit in that consumers, in a void, may preferentially choose marijuana to the exclusion of alcohol. According to the New York Times, Molson Coors advised its stockholders that “legal cannabis … may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer." This has led to major buyouts of cannabis product companies by Molson Coors and Constellation Brands (who make Corona beer and Svedka vodka, among other mass-market brands), as well as Heineken’s exploitive partnership.

This kind of could signal the beginning of a trend that Alcohol Justice has long warned against. California cannot afford to make the same mistakes with marijuana regulation that we made with alcohol regulation. Either get Heineken’s brand names off Hi-Fi Hops or get Hi-Fi Hops off the shelves.

READ MORE about how Big Alcohol undermines public health and safety.