Company: Drinks Merchants Limited
Final Decision: 25 October 2002
“We are concerned that an alcoholic drink is being promoted with clear associations with cannabis – while on the one hand the importers are stating that hemp is a legal substance available in many forms in this country, on the other hand they are clearly capitalizing on the cannabis associations of the drink.
Whilst we know that neither your Code nor any Code covers websites, the drink’s website makes…strong associations with using cannabis and getting high…There are many images of cannabis leaves and the statement that ‘we offer YOU the opportunity to be one of the first to experience the HIGHEST spirit on the shelf.’
We would like a complaint to be considered against the name of the drink under clause 3.1(d) of the Code since we believe that the product does suggest an association with, and acceptance of, illegal drugs. We have not seen the drink as yet, but the product does appear to have cannabis leaves incorporated into the label design…If it does contain a design based on cannabis leaves, we would also like to submit a complaint against the product’s packaging.”
– Alcohol Concern
“We believe that Logan Original Hemp Vodka infringes against Clause 3.1(d) of The Portman Group Code, which forbids any association of a drink with illicit drugs. Any question of the link [with illicit drugs] is removed by the website which says that the Logan Hemp Vodka is a ‘new alcoholic spirit infused with cannabis’. In addition the bottle has a picture of a cannabis leaf on the label.”
– The Wine and Spirit Association
The Wine and Spirit Association
Under Code paragraph 3.1(d)
A drink, its packaging or promotion should not suggest any association with, acceptance of, or allusion to, illegal drugs.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel considered a product sample; the dossier which had been sent to the complainants and the company; a response from the company dated 24th June 2002; and a further email from company dated 10th July 2002.
The Panel noted that hemp and cannabis are common names for plants of the species Cannabis sativa which is part of the Cannabaceae family. Certain strains of Cannabis sativa contain low levels of psycho-active ingredients (THC) and are cultivated for industrial or commercial use. Other strains with higher levels of THC are cultivated for the preparation of illicit drugs. The Panel noted that the terms “hemp” and “cannabis” are often used interchangeably.
In the Panel’s view, the reference to hemp was likely to be interpreted by many as either a direct reference to cannabis or an indirect allusion to cannabis, when used with regard to an intoxicating drink. The Panel considered that the hemp seeds contained in the drink were likely to be interpreted by consumers as a further reference to cannabis, as was the green leafy imagery on the label when used in this context. The Panel accepted as accurate the company’s argument that the green imagery on the label was not intended to represent hemp or cannabis leaves but was nevertheless of the view that the impression conveyed was of leaves or foliage. For these reasons, the Panel decided the product made an indirect allusion to an illicit drug through its naming and packaging. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the complaint under paragraph 3.1(d) of the Code. The Panel carefully considered the company’s response to the provisional decision but were not persuaded by the arguments raised.
Action by Company
The Panel was pleased to note the changes that the company had made to its website and hoped that it would consult with The Portman Group’s Advisory Service to make the necessary changes to the product’s packaging to make it compliant with the Code.