Hemp beer—is anyone out there still brewing this style?—remains legal as of this writing, as a result of a court challenge to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
On October 9, 2001—when the country was too engrossed in the war against terrorism to pay much attention to anything else—DEA chief Asa Hutchinson issued an “intrepretive ruling” decreeing that all hemp-based food products were in violation of federal drug laws, as long as they contained even traces of THC. (THC, or tetrahydrocannibanol, is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Industrial hemp also contains THC, but in amounts too small to produce a high or register positive on a drug test.)
The DEA gave businesses and consumers until February 6, 2002, to get rid of any hemp-based foodstuffs. If the order had gone into effect, it would have killed off a $5-million-a-year industry, encompassing a whole spectrum of edibles from corn chips to ice cream to salad dressing to pretzels.
The edict produced a major backlash (115,000 comments against it) as well as a lawsuit by Kenex Ltd., a Canadian exporter of hemp seed, oil and fiber, which asserted that the ban was in violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The DEA subsequently postponed the ban until March 18. Before the effective date, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted the hemp industry a motion to stay. The decision prohibits the DEA from enforcing its regulation until the court issues a final ruling on its legality.
The effect on the US beer industry is minimal. The Frederick Brewing Co. in Frederick, MD, which introduced the hemp beer style to the domestic market in 1997, discontinued its Hempen Ale in 2000 after new guidelines from the ATF made it almost impossible to advertise the beer. The ATF prohibited the use of the word “hemp” on labels except in the tiny “mice type” used in statement-of-process language, and also banned any type of graphic, such as spikey-leaved foliage, that would imply the presence of hemp.
US beer drinkers—for the time being—can still hoard old bottles of Hempen Ale or possess similar products from Canada or Europe without worrying about the feds pounding on the door with a search warrant.
NBC Reverses Itself on Spirits Ads; Beer Blamed
In December, NBC announced that it would accept hard liquor advertising, ending a voluntary 54-year ban. On March 20, the network reversed its decision.
“Our standards were high,” read a press release from NBC. “For example, we banned any symbol, animation, promotional character or language intended to appeal minors(and any suggestion that drinking is a rite of passage or that distilled spirits will enhance anyone’s attractiveness, personal relationships or sexual prowess.”
The network cited a barrage of criticism that it has received from the public and private sectors, including a request from the bipartisan leadership of the US House and Senate commerce committees to reconsider its policy.
In addition, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) had threatened to call for a congressional hearing if NBC didn’t voluntarily reverse its stance, promising some “surprises” for both the network and for liquor manufacturers.
The Distilled Spirits Council of America, meanwhile, accused the beer industry of pressuring the network. “They say they buckled under to the critics,” DISCUS spokesman Frank Coleman was quoted in the electronic news service, just-drinks.com. “We say that, too, but clearly beer wants the marketplace to itself.”
Supersize Your Beer
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Japan to the United States. Sapporo USA intended to celebrate the anniversary in grand style with a 30-foot-tall inflatable Sapporo beer bottle, tethered outside the beer tent at the April 6 Sakura Matsuri street festival in downtown Washington, DC.
As a contributor to the Japanese-American Society, Sapporo was named official beer of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which as of this writing was just kicking off. Founded in 1876, Sapporo markets Sapporo Draft, Sapporo Reserve and Yebisu in the United States.
Greg Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, a long-time resident of Washington, DC, and a frequent contributor to beer-related publications.