Brewer still waiting for ‘Legal Weed’ decision

Steve Gerace

The story of a micro-brewery in the small northern California town of Weed and its banned bottle caps has made headlines in newspapers, on web blogs, radio stations, and brewing publications around the country in recent months.

A Google search for Mt. Shasta Brewery caps turns up thousands of links with headlines such as: “Careful, that bottle cap could confuse you” or “Brewery’s beer bottle caps busted for Weed allusion” or “Legal Weed is just beer, but Feds want to cap sales.”

Mt. Shasta Brewery owner Vaunne Dillmann can see the humor in some of it, but he’s also still trying to appeal the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s decision earlier this year that banned him from using his “Try Legal Weed” slogan.

Dillmann’s got 400,000 beer caps imprinted with that slogan that he would like to use, and he says the publicity his case has generated has led some businesses to reject his beer products because they don’t like the controversy.

But overall, Dillmann says beer sales are up, as are sales of other products such as shirts, sweatshirts and baseball hats. He’s even getting calls from people who want to purchase his banned bottle caps.

Most recently Dillmann was interviewed live on Fox News, and then, while driving home, he happened to hear his own story being told on Tom Sullivan’s syndicated radio show.

“He dedicated three full hours to it,” Dillmann said of Sullivan. “He was getting calls from all over the US.”

Dillmann said he called in himself and talked to Sullivan for close to an hour.

He also was filmed and interviewed by AARP, has been on the front page of the LA Times and has even heard from people in Paris, France.

But while Dillmann’s plight has generated over 1,200 supportive e-mail messages and letters of support from local, regional, state, and federal government officials, the federal agency that told him to stop using his slogan has yet to  budge.

Dillmann initially was notified by the ATTTB that it considered the text “Try Legal Weed” to be a reference to drugs in February, 2008

He said he was given 45 days to turn in his formal complaint and challenge claiming “a total infringement of my rights under the First Amendment” to be filed.

Dillmann waited 90 days for a decision on his appeal, then recently received a letter saying the ATTTB is extending the appeal another 90 days.

Dillmann believes he hasn’t done anything wrong and is just using the name of his town and its founding father Abner Weed to promote his product.

He questions the rule that the ATTTB used to justify its decision, which states that “responsible industry members should not want to portray their products in a socially unacceptable manner.”

“What is socially unacceptable?” Dillmann asks. “I don’t think I’ve done anything socially unacceptable.”

He says three different attorneys have offered to take on his case pro bono and he plans to work with one of them, who is from Los Angeles.

No stranger to controversy in his many years of trying to get his brewery up and going, Dillmann says he recently was granted his restaurant license by the ABC and he has started serving food.

“It’s another milestone we met after 15 years of trying,” Dillmann said.

He hopes he doesn’t have to wait much longer to again use his slogan, and he says he doesn’t plan on being denied.