Beer Industry Looks to Cannabis Market as Tall Glass of Potential

Beer companies are looking for ways to edge in on the green rush before the legal cannabis market gets too competitive.

American-based Constellation Brands, the firm behind major beer brands Corona and Modelo, announced it purchased a 10 percent stake in Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth Corporation. The $190 million acquisition prepares the company to market cannabis drinks in Canada after recreational adult-use cannabis legalization.

Rob Sands, Constellation CEO, said “We’re obviously trying to get first-mover advantage” as the company anticipates federal legalization in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.

At a recent National Beer Wholesalers Association meeting, AdAge reports that Heineken USA CEO Ronald den Elzen mentioned the potential for cannabis to compete with the beer market, saying “Wine and spirits are not sitting still and marijuana is being legalized in many states across the country. We have to act now and we have to do it together.”

A a recent market research study from Ameri Research Inc. estimated that the global cannabis market will surge from $14.3 billion in 2016 to an estimated $63.5 billion by 2024. “In the U.S., the tax revenues of legal marijuana are now comparable with other commodities such as draft beer,” the report stated.

In California, cannabis business owners are already preparing for soon-to-come recreational cannabis tourism by planning for cannabis-infused drinks at social clubs, adjacent bars and even dispensaries. Magnolia Wellness director Debby Goldsberry said that at her new licensed dab bar, “We’ll be making fresh edibles, and we’ll have a marijuana-infused coffee bar with infused drinks. We’ll have a dabber at every table, and infused mocktails at the bar.” While there is no alcohol in the infused mocktails, similar cannabis product “bars” could become an alternative to traditional alcohol-based establishments.

Beer brands have created small batches of cannabis-infused brews in the last few years. While infused cannabis beer has no THC, brewers aim to have marijuana aroma and taste.

This summer, Lagunitas partnered with CannaCraft AbsoluteXtracts to make SuperCritical, “infused with NorCal’s Finest Cannabis and Yakima’s Finest Hops.”

Humboldt Distillery released “Humboldt’s Finest” in 2016, a limited release premium small batch vodka infused with legal U.S.-grown hemp. Colorado’s Dude’s Brew also sold “General Washington’s Secret Stash,” another cannabis-infused beer, in 2016.

When it comes to tourist destinations, rules and regulations could step in the way of partnerships between alcohol and cannabis companies. In Maine, “future rules likely will prohibit serving alcohol and cannabis in the same place,” according to attorneys evaluating Maine’s cannabis tourism potential.

Some cannabis industry advocates warn against a close association between the alcohol and cannabis industries. Kirsten Velasco, director of Illinois Women in Cannabis said, “If we go too ‘recreational’ and [cannabis] becomes regulated like alcohol – sociologically it sends the message that this is a vice, that it’s a dangerous, addictive, gateway drug. Imagine if everyone understands that cannabis is a safe, effective medicine – that it has nutraceutical, pharmaceutical health benefits.”

In 2015, the federal government partially funded a study that lead researchers to the conclusion that alcohol has a much bigger impact on driving than cannabis.  Researchers found that alcohol “significantly increased lane departures/minimum and maximum lateral acceleration; these measures were not sensitive to cannabis.” Researchers went on to say that drivers under the influence of cannabis “may attempt to drive more cautiously to compensate for impairing effects, whereas alcohol-influenced drivers often underestimate their impairment and take more risk.”

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