If you are reading this than you probably already know about some of the parties I throw in San Francisco. Of all the parties I throw the Absinthe Parties are my favorite. If you know about the parties I throw than you probably also know that officers from the California State Alcoholic Beverage Control visited my last big absinthe party. They behaved courteously and professionally but they did bust us, and they did write us tickets to appear in court, and they did confiscate over seventy bottles of my favorite beverage.
I have been fairly quiet on the subject since this incident occurred at the end of December of last year. In fact I only posted one brief note about it letting people know what happened. I did this to quell any rumors, which I felt would do no one any good, and to avoid having to answer the same questions over and over again (which is tiresome for all concerned).
Well I am happy to report that as of today the entire incident is resolved and for once evil has triumphed over good. Thanks to the fair and honest officers of the California ABC and to the machinations of my lawyer Paul Spiegel Esquire (http://www.eclecticlaw.com ) I am once again the proud owner of a large quantity and variety of absinthe.
Allow me to begin at the beginning and relate the whole story so that there will be no misconceptions as to what occurred.
A couple of days before New Years I threw a party at the theater for some of my friends. This was not the first time I had thrown one of these little fetes nor was it the last. On this particular occasion several people turned up at the door. Our doorman was suspicious of them. He felt as though they did not belong at the event – in fact he thought they "might be cops". He told them that it was a private party and sent them away. About a half hour later they returned… this time in full SWAT gear. They charged the gate, which our security guard shut. Before he could slam it all the way one of them blocked it open. Our intrepid doorman then blocked the ingress until they threatened him with jail and manhandled him out of the way. Rushing inside they caught Cat mid pour. At first she thought they were guys in costumes… they weren't.
Since Cat was already busted she walked around the venue with one of the officers doing as much damage control as possible. In fact when I showed up she asked me to leave, telling me "I am handling this sir. You should go!" I walked away until I realized what was happening and what she had done. I'm no hero but I sure wasn't going to let her and my staff take the heat while I chilled at home so I walked back in and took the rap.
I stayed with the officers until five in the morning inventorying everything they confiscated and locking up. Five of us were issued citations to appear in court the next month. No one was arrested.
When we showed up in court the District Attorney decided not to file charges. The case was not dismissed… It was never filed.
Since there was no case filed we were never found guilty. Since we were not guilty I felt that it was improper for the government to keep my property so I asked for it back.
To be honest I didn't really expect to get it back, especially the absinth. When I called the ABC they were courteous and even friendly. I was congratulated for not being charged. I asked for my property back and was told that they would return the liquor but that absinth was contraband and would not be returned. I told them that Absinth is not a controlled substance, and that it is legal for me to possess it and in the absence of criminal conviction I felt that it should be returned.
They passed the case up to the legal department. The wheels of justice turn slowly. It has been six months since I first spoke to the lead counsel for the California ABC. He has been polite, friendly even. It has taken him all this time exhausting all efforts to find a law that prevents me from possessing my absinthe.
I know that some people will be reading this with interest as to the legalities of possession of absinth. Absinthe has long been in a gray area legally. I want to be clear… The lead counsel for the California State Alcoholic Beverage Control checked local, state, and federal guidelines for possession of absinthe. His office found (after spending six months researching it) that there is no law that prevents a private citizen from possessing absinthe.
The happy consequence of this long tale is that as of 3pm on Monday August 6, 2007, I am in full possession of the confiscated absinth. That's right the sate gave it back.
I want to be clear about why I am posting this. Since I first became interested in absinth I have searched for answers about the legal status of absinth. Answers are few and far between. The few answers that do exist are nebulous and often misleading. I am posting this story online so that interested parties can have a firsthand accounting of my interaction with the legal system in the hopes that it will answer some questions for fellow absinth lovers and to avoid having to answer the same questions over and over again at parties.
There is one further note that needs to be made clear. This bust happened in San Francisco. Had it occurred elsewhere the outcome would probably have been very different. The biggest issue for me is the absolute professionalism of the officers and legal department involved. That bust cost them several thousand dollars and a ton of man-hours. Six officers spent ten hours each on the bust. Then more officers spent time inventorying, writing reports, and following up. After the court released the case the state's legal department spent a lot more time and money researching the issue.
They could have stonewalled me. They did not. They acted fairly and legally. I am sure it was annoying for them (the officers in particular) but they all obeyed the law. If our governments upper management would behave in the same honest, open, fair way than the world would be a better place.
Here is the law governing the manufacture and distribution of absinth in California –
347b. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to manufacture, sell, furnish, or give away, or offer to manufacture, sell, furnish, or give away any alcoholic solution of a potable nature containing any deleterious or poisonous substance, and the burden of proof shall be upon the person, firm, or corporation manufacturing, selling, furnishing, or giving away, or offering to manufacture, sell, furnish, or give away, any such alcoholic solution of a potable nature containing any deleterious or poisonous substance, to show that such alcoholic solution of a potable nature did not contain any deleterious or poisonous substance. Every person who violates any of the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Additionally Absinthe is listed as a prohibited item by the U.S. Customs service. It is unlawful to import absinth (or any consumable containing Thujone – the psychoactive in absinth) into the US. This stems from an obscure and poorly written cosmetics act written in the late 70s. There seems to be no penalty other than the confiscation of the property. I have never been busted for transporting absinth across the boarder so I cannot speak to this from firsthand knowledge.
This is all the customs department has to say on the subject (this is from the U.S. Customs website (http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/prohibited_restricted.xml)
Absinthe (Alcohol)? The importation of Absinthe and any other liquors or liqueurs that contain Artemisia absinthium is prohibited.
I hope as you read this it is for gratification not because of a bust and that you never need to know any of this.