California Businessman Believes the Smell of Marijuana Hurts Wine Grapes

Photo by Nico Escondido

Robert “Pat” Patrick is the CEO of the local chamber of commerce in Lodi, California, a stretch of the state’s agricultural heartland that, in recent years, has made a name for itself as a nascent winemaking region.

It’ll never be Napa or Sonoma, but brother, if you’ve ever taken a sip of red wine and been greeted by a bold flavor explosion—like drinking a jam sandwich, made by an overcompensating Guy Fieri, borrowing Sam Elliott’s boots right after a 100-mile horseback ride through a tobacco juice swamp—you know the pleasures of a Lodi Zinfandel.

Grapes are a big deal here—in 2015, Lodi was Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Wine Region of the Year”!—so Patrick will predictably take unkindly to anything threatening the area’s 110,000 acres of vineyards. Like marijuana fields, the smell of which, according to Patrick, can permeate the skin of a wine grape and render it less valuable.

Patrick uttered this puzzling contention last week, when the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors was considering whether to lift a ban on commercial marijuana cultivation in the area. San Joaquin was one of the epicenters of the subprime mortgage meltdown that fueled the Great Recession, and the county is still hurting for jobs. (Apparently, grapes don’t pay the bills.)

There are many who see farmland like the Central Valley as the future of marijuana cultivation.

Land is cheap and energy—via the sun, which beats down, blank and unsmiling, for most of the year—is free. Yet the notion of opening up the area to commercial marijuana cultivation was met with near-universal opposition from commercial dairy farmers and other representatives of industrial agriculture.

If Patrick has his way, cannabis will only be grown indoors under grow lights in this area. According to the Lodi News Sentinel, he’s concerned about the “problems caused by [marijuana] plants’ odor.”

“The odor travels, it could permeate grape skins and render the wine deficient, causing it to lose value,” Patrick told the paper.

During the board meeting, there were ample examples of ignorant, patently false, or dishonest statements—another farm bureau bigwig posited that existing farms could lose their loans, insurance or be penalized by the USDA if marijuana moved in, a development seen exactly nowhere elsewhere Big Ag operates, like Oregon and Washington—but Patrick’s breaks new ground.

He is claiming that the mere smell of marijuana, the scent of the essential oils in the resinous trichomes found in the flowers of mature female plants, can somehow cause harm to other crops.

This is something other, more powerful smells endemic to large-scale ag production—like manure, for example—are unable to do to wine grapes. Wine grapes are more fragile than table grapes, but manage to survive an onslaught of pests and fungi—including powdery mildew, the scourge that fells many a marijuana crop—in order to become this year’s vintage of Carlo Rossi. Patrick is suggesting that a grape that could withstand Phylloxera and black rot can be ruined by essential oils from plants on the next property over. For their sake, let’s hope winemakers don’t use aftershave or put pine-tree air fresheners in their trucks.

This is next-level nonsense, but Patrick wasn’t done.

Not content with spinning Reefer Madness, he wrapped up by proving himself a colossal asshole—making an argument in favor of paying criminally underpaid ag workers their embarrassingly low wages:

Patrick also brought up the argument that cannabis growers can afford to pay higher wages than other agriculture, construction or entry-level manufacturing jobs, as well as mentioning that some employers have already had issues with employees using cannabis on the job, leading to potential safety risks.

Yes, it’s true: In other regions, like Napa and Sonoma, winemakers have had to pay their workers more in response to higher wages offered by marijuana companies. It’s almost like competition is good—unless it’s competition that is good for the worker and consumer, rather than the employer.  

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