Still awaiting a decision of his appeal to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. owner Vaunne Dillmann was recently contacted by the ACLU and told the organization wanted to represent him and his case, pro bono.
There is a big controversy surrounding First Amendment rights brewing in the little town of Weed, California.
Since the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ordered Vaunne Dillmann, owner of the Mt. Shasta Brewing Company, to stop using his bottle caps because of a pun that plays on the name of his home town, a whirlwind of supporters has been blowing his way.
One such advocate, the American Civil Liberties Union, recently jumped on the band wagon and is saying the ATTTB’s denial of Dillmann’s ability to place the slogan “Try Legal Weed” on bottle caps for his Weed Ales is simply beyond the pale.
The ATTTB, however, continues to stand its ground.
Still awaiting the decision of his appeal to the ATTTB, Dillmann was recently contacted by the ACLU and told the organization wanted to represent him and his case, pro bono.
“This is a classic example of Mr. Dillmann exercising his free speech rights,” said ACLU attorney Adam Wolf, who is leading the case. “We’re basically telling the government to stop bullying this small business owner around.”
Wolf noted that no lawsuit had been filed as of the time of the interview, but that action will be taken if the government continues to prevent Dillmann from using his bottle caps.
“If a lawsuit is filed, Mr. Dillmann will have an excellent chance of winning the case,” stated Wolf, adding, “the government has no business telling people what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.
“Frankly, it’s embarrassing that the government would spend money to go after Mr. Dillmann. “Tax payers should know that the government allocates resources in such a misguided way.”
Even with the backing of the ACLU, the ATTTB isn’t budging on the issue.
When contacted Tuesday morning, ATTTB spokesman Art Resnick said he was unaware of the ACLU’s decision to take up the case.
“This doesn’t change anything,” he said. “[Dillmann’s] appeal is working it’s way through the channels here. I expect there will be a decision shortly.”
The quandary began when the ATTTB, during a review of Dillmann’s application for a new beer label in February this year, banned use of the caps, claiming that “Try Legal Weed” was a “drug reference” and that it could mislead customers about the characteristics of the beverage. The ATTTB also told him if he uses the caps he could be subject to fines or penalties.
“This is all just ridiculous,” said Dillmann, a former Oakland cop. “The government is playing God; they are the judge, jury and executioner. I’m tired of Big Brother regulating the American people in everything they do.”
Dillmann laughs at the ATTTB’s claim that the pun insinuates marijuana use and wonders if the feds are confused about the contents of beers like Rogue’s “Dead Guy Ale” or Big Sky’s “Moose Drool Brown Ale.”
“Does ‘Moose Drool’ insinuate that when you open a bottle you get a slimy wet one?” Dillmann wondered.
Dillmann, 61, is no stranger to a fight; since starting his brewery he has dealt with numerous local complaints.
Dillmann’s “Try Legal Weed” pun on his bottle caps is accompanied by “A Friend in Weed is a Friend Indeed.”
He said he uses his saying to promote the community and draw the eye of the consumer.
The town was named after Abner Weed in 1901, a lumber baron who also served as a state senator a century ago.
“All our products identify with the community and our geographical region,” Dillman said. “I have never insinuated anything other than a pun to encourage people to come and enjoy the town and the business for what they are – unique and individual.”
Pictured on every beer label sold is the Weed Arch, a metal archway situated at the entrance of the town’s downtown area, which Dillmann himself helped erect in 1988.
The brewery recently took delivery of a 400,000 cap order at a price of around $10,000. Dillmann could be out that money if the ATTTB rejects his appeal.
The saga has captured the attention of countless people around the world.
Dillmann said he has received over 1,200 supportive letters, emails and phone calls from individuals and groups, some wanting to appoint him as their official spokesperson. He has even won the support of congressman Wally Herger and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, as well as many local government officials.
“I’m leading a charge,” Dillmann proclaimed waving a hefty stack of support letters. “People are totally irate with this.” Then he adds his recently coined cliche: “It’s my little bottle cap heard round the world.”
Dillmann said the controversy has been physically and emotionally draining on him and his family. But, he says, he is staying positive and is confident the issue will eventually end in his favor.
“Besides, I haven’t broken any laws,” he said.
Dillmann said he believes he and the ATTTB will eventually come to an agreement. But until then it’s business as usual at the brewery.