When it comes to showing their embrace of marijuana, beer breweries are standing by the plant and sticking it to The Man, man.
A handful of the nation’s over 2,500 breweries have recently incorporated marijuana innuendo into their branding efforts, following a trend that’s already seen pot jokes used to sell everything from power bars and ice cream to fast-food burritos.
Yet unlike other companies, which might face pushback to their edgy marketing mainly from church pastors and the PTA, beer makers are facing off with Uncle Sam for the right to advertise as they please. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a small office that must approve nearly all alcoholic beverage labeling, is subject to an industry guidance document from 1994 that forbids weed references on alcohol labels.
That government document says “drugs, drug terms or slang associated with drugs” are forbidden in beer labeling. “We do not believe that responsible industry members should want or would want to portray their products in any socially unacceptable manner,” it reads.
That’s a problem for Michigan-based Dark Horse Brewing Company, which wanted to distribute a brew previously sold in limited batches as “Smells Like Weed IPA.” After being rejected by the feds, the manager at that brewery said that Dark Horse renamed the beer to “Smells Like A Safety Meeting IPA.” (A “safety meeting,” in stoner slang, is a break taken while on the job to smoke marijuana.)
In Seattle, Wash., Redhook Ale Brewery is bypassing the feds’ dislike of its newest beer, “Joint Effort Hemp Ale,” by distributing it only within Washington state — which is allowed because the federal government only has power over interstate commerce. Karmen Olson, Redhook’s brand manager, said the brew is being marketed to celebrate the 2012 legalization of recreational cannabis by voters in that state. The federal government objects to the words “joint” and “hemp” being used to do that.