In the wake of Canada’s (soon to be) marijuana legalization, there’s a lot of buzz floating around about cannabis-infused beverages.
Beer giants like Constellation Brands, Molson Coors and Heineken are dipping their toes in cannabis products and signing deals with Canadian marijuana producers.
Even the soft drink companies are eyeing the green; on Monday Coca-Cola said it was watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD (one of the main ingredients in weed) as an ingredient in “wellness beverages.”
But what exactly are cannabis-infused drinks and why are they growing in popularity?
Who Are The Players?
There’s already cannabis drinks on the U.S. market where marijuana is legal (nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the leaf for recreational use).
Heineken-owed Lagunitas recently released an IPA-inspired beer that is made out of hops and cannabis, called Hi-Fi Hops. The company said the beverage is alcohol-free and does not contain any carbs or calories.
Oregon’s Coalition Brewing also released a CBD-infused beer called Two Flowers IPA.
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And here in Canada, the cannabis beverage industry is starting to brew.
In August, Molson Coors announced it was partnering with Quebec-based pot producer, HEXO Corp., and making a non-alcoholic weed beverage for the Canadian market.
Constellation Brands, which makes beers like Corona and Negro Modelo, along with whiskies, tequilas and vodkas has invested $4 billion in Ontario pot producer Canopy Growth.
And then there’s Coca-Cola. On Monday, BNN Bloomberg reported the company was in talks with B.C.- marijuana producer, Aurora Cannabis to make CBD-infused wellness drinks.
“Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.
Aurora Cannabis said it has not signed a deal with respect to any partnership with a drink company. But the company did acknowledge that it had been in conversation with several beverage makers over the last few months.
What’s In Cannabis Drinks?
Drinks can be infused with cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or both.
CBD is one of the hundreds of compounds found in marijuana plants and contains less than 0.1 per cent THC, the primary ingredient that gets you high.
Terry Lake, the vice-president of corporate responsibility for HEXO Corp., said because cannabis is the active ingredient, the company’s drinks will not have alcohol.
“It could be a dealcoholized beer that is infused with ingredients of cannabis. And it could be made up of many chemicals like THC, which gets you high, and CBD which does not get you high and will work more for anti-inflammatory and mood modulation qualities,” he said.
What Will It Taste Like?
The taste of the cannabis drinks will depend on the flavour you buy, Lake said.
“It could be a beer taste in a dealcoholized beer. It could be a fruit flavour, a coffee drink or even kombucha,” he said.
“We see in the United States, for instance, you’ve got drinks like Happy Apple in Washington State that is an apple-flavoured cannabis-infused drink, which tastes like fresh apples in a bottle.”
When Will It Be On Sale?
Even though marijuana will be legal on Oct. 17, edibles and drinkables will need to be regulated and consumers shouldn’t expect to see anything on shelves until 2019.
The federal government said regulating edibles is a “complex undertaking” as there are potential unique health risks and harms that need to be understood before it becomes legal.
According to the government, the sale of cannabis edibles would be authorized no later than Oct. 17, 2019.
“So next summer hopefully we can see these products on the shelves,” Lake said, adding that he hopes to get his company’s cannabis drinks ready for sale next summer.
Where Can You Buy Cannabis Drinks?
If you want to pick up a six-pack of cannabis-infused beer, the liquor store may not be the place to do it.
Lake said it’s likely that Health Canada will sell weed drinks in regulated stores that sell cannabis (depending on what province you live in,, this could be a government-run entity or private store).
Why Are Companies Interested In Cannabis Drinks?
As legal weed becomes more widespread, it is expected that more beverage companies will get into the business of marijuana.
“Many beverage companies see the opportunity of cannabis, which could compete with or replace the alcohol business,” Marc Lustig, CEO of CannaRoyalty said.
He said many of these companies are seeing their sales either plateau or decline due to changing consumer behaviour. So extending their product and brand in the cannabis industry is a great way to boost sales.
Will Canadians Drink Up The Hype?
According to a 2017 Health Canada survey, only three per cent of cannabis users said they consume pot in a liquid form.
However, both Lustig and Lake believe Canadians are ready for the new product and this number will only soar come legalization.
“It’s going to be a great market for this,” Lake said. “If you go down to the U.S., in states like California and Washington, you can find these drinks already, they’re very popular. And we now can do this on a national scale and that’s why other companies are thinking about this.”