Auckland-based Behemoth Brewing is urging New Zealanders to vote for cannabis reform in October’s general election with the re-release of its award-winning Reeferendum Hazy IPA.
Behemoth is no stranger to political controversy thanks to beers like Dump The Trump IPA and Im-Peach-ment Sour and owner-brewer Andrew Childs didn’t hesitate to jump into politically muddied waters at home when approached by the New Zealand Drug Foundation to support its On Our Terms campaign to legalise cannabis.
At the October 17 election, New Zealanders will vote yes or no in a referendum on the Cannabis Control Bill, which aims to make recreational use of cannabis legal under strict guidelines.
Just after Reeferendum won the Smith’s IPA Challenge in Queenstown, Childs got a call from Ross Bell, chief executive of the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
“He said he saw Reeferendum and had a cheeky request: would we be open to supporting the Vote Yes campaign.”
The beer features of a caricature of well-known New Zealand political figure Nándor Tánczos, a former Green Party MP and Rastafarian who supports decriminalisation of marijuana.
Childs is happy to support the political aspect of the campaign but was clear that his beer is not actively promoting drug use.
He’s already had one fellow brewer question whether the support of the vote yes campaign is a breach of alcohol guidelines that state Alcohol advertising and promotions shall not … suggest any association with, acceptance of, or allusion to, tobacco, illicit drugs…
“This is just getting people to vote on what is a health issue and law reform issue rather than promoting cannabis. We’re not allowed to promote cannabis – and we don’t actively do that – we’re just saying this a sensible piece of legislation and you should support it.”
Childs is bracing for some backlash but is happy with his legal position, especially since the beer has already been brewed once without controversy.
“We’re pointing people to the NZ Drug Foundation website, On Our Terms, which outlines some pretty concrete details about the benefits of reform including increased tax revenue for the government, freeing up police time to focus on more serious crimes, increased access to medical treatment.
“It’s also strictly R20 and there are heavy penalties for anyone who supplies cannabis to someone under 20.”
Childs, who was lawyer before he became a brewer, also noted social justice was at play in his support for reform.
“The main thing for me is the proportion of people who have life opportunities restricted for minor drug offences in New Zealand,” he said.
“Police currently have a lot of discretion but research shows that if you’re Maori you’re much more likely to be arrested for possession.”
Childs is also aware that many in the beer industry are worried that making cannabis legal could cut into craft beer consumption.
“We’ve definitely had people overseas really worried that craft beer will take a big hit with cannabis coming through. We just don’t think it’s the case at all. The one thing you can say about craft beer is that people have it for the taste rather than for getting wasted.
“It won’t be people choosing one form of drug over another. If people do choose marijuana – if it becomes legal – I don’t think there’s competing interests.”
Bell is happy to have a powerhouse brewer helping share his organisation message and said there was natural alignment between craft beer and cannabis reform.
“There is an interesting juxtaposition here because a lot of people say alcohol manufacturers won’t want cannabis legalized as it will impact on their market, but that completely misrepresents what a legal cannabis market will look like,” he explained.
“It will be a market for connoisseurs – and very similar to craft brewing, in that those consumers will want to know the provenance of the product, where it’s from, who are the makers, what are the flavours and smells, and so on.
“And like craft beer drinkers, they are willing to pay a premium for high quality product.
“In many ways, the craft beer market shows what a craft cannabis market might look like.”