SALEM, OR -- Oregon would create a “Spirits Board,” under a bill in the legislature. Supporters say it would do for distilleries what the Oregon Wine Board does for wineries; but it faces strong opposition from addiction treatment advocates.
Brad Irwin owns Bend-based Oregon Spirit Distillers and says the proposed board would be modeled after the Wine Board, "It will assist small and medium sized distilleries to navigate the entrance and expansion into national and international markets. Secondly, it will build national and international recognition of the high quality spirits produced in Oregon; and we will truly brand Oregon. And finally, this bill will promote tourism."
Bendistillery makes Crater Lake Spirits in Bend. CEO Alan Dietrich also testified before the House Committee on Economic Development and Small Business Thursday, telling lawmakers, "A combination of market forces has constricted our path to market like never before. But, consumer demand still cuts through all the barriers. And having a cohesive brand image for Oregon spirits, much like what was created to support Oregon wine, is the surest, most proven way to build national recognition and to help us compete on our strengths."
Emily Jensen, founder of Eugene-based Thinking Tree Spirits, believes it would make it easier to bring out-of-state money to Oregon. She told the committee it took two years to find a distributor, but her gin is now available in Dallas, Texas, "While our margins are slim and the path ahead is very steep, I’m proud to say we are finally cashing Texas checks to make Oregon payroll."
However, addiction specialists say state resources shouldn't be used to promote a deadly product. Tony Morris, with Oregon Recovers, told lawmakers, "Alcohol is a toxic, addictive carcinogen that kills more Oregon residents than all types of drug overdoses combined." He says excessive drinking costs the state $4.8 billion; three times the revenue of Oregon distilleries. "There is no economic argument that justifies the outsized role that the alcohol industry continues to play in Oregon’s lethal addiction crisis."
Sonja Grove lost her son to alcohol addiction. She’s disappointed the bipartisan bill has so much support, "Has anyone acknowledged that alcohol in any amount is damaging, and for those with the disease it can be death? Spirits are especially high in alcohol content, reaching 40% for some."
The bill remains in committee.
Photo: Oregon's House Committee on Economic Development and Small Business hears testimony on March 2, 2023 for HB 2976.