CBD gin ‘Colorado High’ breaches Code, says UK alcohol marketing watchdog

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Portman group cbd beverages Cbd Alcohol Uk

In the first decision of its kind, The Portman Group has upheld a complaint against CBD gin ‘Colorado High’ in the UK for both creating a link with an illicit drug and implying therapeutic qualities. But the craft distiller behind the gin argues adults know and understand CBD and its distinction from cannabis.

In the UK, cannabis is an illicit drug but CBD is not. However, The Portman Group deemed the product created an indirect association with illicit drugs. It also said the product created a problematic link between alcohol and implied therapeutic effects of CBD.

But craft gin company Silent Pool Distillers believes adults are familiar with CBD - and understand its distinction from cannabis. It says the Portman Group - a self-regulatory industry watchdog funded by eight alcohol industry giants - has 'failed to grasp the reality of the CBD market'.

Link to illicit drugs?

Silent Pool Distillers, based in Surrey, has sold around 2,000 bottles of the gin, including with exports to three EU countries. The drink uses CBD from Colorado which is grown one mile above sea level. The company also pointed out that Denver is known as the ‘Mile High City’. Thus, it said the name ‘Colorado High’ was solely a reference to location and quality of CBD sourced.

The Panel, however, considered the combination of the word ‘high’ with a reference to ‘Colorado’ (known for being one of the first US states to decriminalise recreational cannabis) along with a picture with a ‘hallucinogenic feel’ created an ‘indirect association with illicit drugs’ and thus breached the Code. (The panel considered that some of these elements might individually be acceptable, but that the cumulative effect was problematic).

CBD should not be called 'wellness-enhancing', says Portman Group

The Panel noted that the back label of the product stated ‘A sensory infusion of wellness-enhancing CBD and refreshingly complex gin …’ and ‘Colorado High is a spirit that supports your body’s natural balance and tastes great doing so’.

The Panel said the packaging conveyed a health benefit through the use of the term ‘wellness-enhancing’.

Panel takes dim view of CBD as part of alcohol product name

The Panel also took issue with the product descriptor of ‘CBD Gin’: given that CBD is widely marketed as providing pain relief or other health benefits and therefore could infer an alcoholic product had therapeutic benefits.

“The Panel considered that producers should give consumers information about the inclusion of CBD as an ingredient, if it was present, but could convey that without referring to CBD in the product name. 

“After carefully considering the risk that consumers would infer therapeutic qualities, the Panel concluded on the basis of the evidence in this case that products containing CBD should name it as an ingredient but should not incorporate CBD into the name of the product or the product descriptor or feature it prominently on their packaging.”

CBD should be viewed as an ingredient

The Portman Group’s Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks (6th edition)

3.2(c) A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with, acceptance of, or allusion to, illicit drugs

3.2(j)  A drink / packaging / promotional material / activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest that the product has therapeutic qualities, can enhance mental or physical capabilities, or change mood or behaviour

“We would urge producers to think carefully about how they place a CBD descriptor on their packaging,”​ says the body, which is in the process of compiling guidelines for CBD alcohol products.

Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said: “We would urge producers to think carefully about how they place a CBD descriptor on their product’s packaging. It is important that CBD is viewed as an ingredient, rather than a suggestion of therapeutic or health benefits.”

The Portman Group was founded to promote responsible alcohol standards and is funded by eight alcohol industry members including AB InBev, Carlsberg, Heineken and Molson Coors. It assesses complaints via an Independent Complaints Panel.

But Silent Pool Distillers says it is concerned that the Panel consistently links CBD to cannabis.

"We don’t even use the word [cannabis] on the packaging and CBD is completely legal and can be purchased by anyone - it’s not even a product that you have to be over a certain age to consume.

"We cater to an adult market that appreciates and believes in CBD, our ultra-high dose gin is expensive because of the ingredients and this self-selects its buyer; if you wanted to get a drug high you wouldn’t buy a bottle of our gin.

"These customers are being treated like children by an outfit that has failed to grasp the reality of the CBD market. You can buy CBD creams, CBD lotions, CBD bath bombs, CBD lip salve, CBD drops to put under your tongue - but according to Portman it’s too dangerous to call a product 'CBD Gin'; this is a product and naming convention that is in widespread circulation and the public understand.

"Most of the innovation within the drinks sector is taking place within the small players and it’s that innovation and creativity that will drive sales in the UK and most importantly post Brexit overseas, we already export Colorado High. So Portman has managed not to consider the wider context, not considered the actual purchaser, not considered an actual public harm and not considered what this could do to our ability to sell great UK products overseas."

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