The Australian Capital Territory has passed a bill legalising the personal use and possession of cannabis. With growing trends in alternative wines and wine substitutes, what could this mean for the Australian wine industry?
The ACT, home to the federal capital of Canberra, has recently become the first Australian State or Territory to legalise the personal use or possession of cannabis. The new laws, set to come into effect on January 31st 2020, will allow adults over the age of 18 to be in possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis alongside two small plants (four per household). Following its introduction as a private member bill last year, this decision is set to bring widespread change to the Australian wine industry – as both a threat and a potential opportunity.
The discussion surrounding the impact of cannabis products on the wine market isn’t new, particularly to those in the United States, where 33 states and the District of Columbia have either legalised or decriminalised cannabis in some form. Canada has also legalised it at a national level for recreational use and is set to legalise cannabis infused edibles by the end of this month (October 2019). The growing interest and demand for cannabis wine mirrors the growing popularity of alternative wines worldwide. As highlighted in our Global SOLA 2019 series and our recent spotlight on Millennials, more wine drinkers are now experimenting with craft products and are turning towards alternative wines for their perceived health benefits.
Both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are found in the cannabis sativa plant. The former, when at a level higher than .3%, is the psychoactive drug that causes the sensation of being ‘high’. The latter is the ingredient currently being used in the beverage industry – specifically in non-alcoholic wines – though the decriminalisation of edibles in Canada may soon lead to THC-infused drinks (which by law will not be allowed to contain alcohol) . While the legal status of CBD infused products is unclear in many of the states and territories that have legalised cannabis, this hasn’t stopped a growing number of companies investing in these products. For example, in California, food and beverages infused with CBD are legal under state law if they are sold in licensed dispensaries. This has led companies such as Cannavines to release two infused wines in their range, which will be available for purchase soon. A CBD winery in Temecula Valley, California has also released CBD infused alcohol-free wine.
CBD products are creating a dialogue that the industry cannot ignore. Now that the ACT has followed suit, it is to be expected that there will be similar pressure in other Australian states and a growing interest in cannabis products – both in edibles and cannabis infused wines – as potential business opportunities. Indeed, trade experts have become increasingly aware of the need to monitor cannabis legislation across the country, in order to remain one step ahead of the potential new trends, threats and opportunities that the legalisation of cannabis brings to the drinks business. While we are still a while away from the commercialisation of ‘weed wine’, these new laws bring plenty of speculation regarding the impact of cannabis products on the wine industry. In an already crowded and fragmented market, wine producers that don’t carry the alternative label may have to work even harder for their share of the consumer’s disposable income in the years to come.