Concordia University School of Law, Faculty Scholarship

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2017


An appellation is a certified designation of origin that may also require that certain quality or stylistic standards be met. Appellations are most commonly associated with the wine industry, but they can be applied to any agricultural product for which the geographic origin carries importance. The MMRSA [California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act] … may have far-ranging effects on the marijuana industry in the United States. [A provision of the act permits the state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to ‘establish appellations of origin for marijuana grown in California.’] As the most populous state in the Union and the most prolific marijuana producer, California is likely to dictate, or at least influence, how, where, and by whom marijuana is grown. Already, there is evidence in California that grassroots efforts are underway to establish local designations of origin for marijuana agriculture.

If the marijuana industry (or even California) were to adopt the appellation model, it would throw cold water on prevailing assumptions that marijuana will become an agricultural commodity in a post-prohibition world. The demise of the small-scale marijuana fanner is a common narrative of marijuana legalization discourse. States across the country are legalizing the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana, and rapid legalization is sure to cause an increase in demand. According to this narrative, it is inevitable that the marijuana industry will consolidate into a handful of agricultural conglomerates producing vast quantities of indistinct marijuana. As it becomes an agricultural commodity, the market will be flooded with cheap marijuana, driving down prices and driving out small-scale farmers.

The narrative is compelling, but misguided. This article argues that commoditization and consolidation of the marijuana industry is not inevitable (or even likely), and that marijuana appellations, or American Cannabicultural Areas (ACAs), offer a more promising alternative to farmers, regulators, and consumers. [excerpt]