Seven Mile Times

Spring 2019

This Bud’s For You:

Marijuana Beer Might Be Wave of the Future

By John Tracy Jr.

Taboo. Dangerous. Dirty. Since the 1930s, marijuana has been demonized and outlawed as a drug in the United States.


During this era of prohibition, those opposed to it have argued that it is a harmful gateway drug that leads to increased crime and addiction as well as stunted brain development in young adults and lung disease.


However controversial it might be, there is an ever-increasing movement toward the legalization of pot across the country, with 33 states and the District of Columbia having passed laws broadly legalizing its use in one way or another. Is the end of pot prohibition near? This is one of the hottest topics in the beverage industry, with some of the biggest names in beer jockeying for position and strategic alliances with weed businesses in Canada to prepare for the upcoming opportunity.


The relationship between beer and marijuana is like that of two brothers who went their separate ways but have started to reunite. Part of the same family, hops and marijuana are the closest relatives to one another of any other plant species. Their usage by man can be traced back for centuries. In American history, it is even well-known that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated their own hemp farms and brewed their own beer. Early in the 20th century, both alcohol (beer) and marijuana became outlawed for some period of time. However, the ban on weed lasted much longer, fueled by the post-Vietnam War “War on Drugs” and President Richard Nixon having it classified as a Schedule 1 drug, a most serious designation putting it in the same group as heroin and LSD.


But the times they are a-changin’. Recent Gallup polls show that up to 64 percent of Americans are in favor of the legalization of pot (October 2017) compared to only 12 percent in 1969. Studies also show that the number of people who admit to trying pot has more than doubled in the last 15 years. Ten states have gone so far to as to make it fully legal for recreational use, while 23 have restrictions that make it legal only for medical purposes (which, by the way, have not been universally proved).


This changing tide sets the stage for a vast economic opportunity and a market that many large agricultural, food, beverage and tobacco companies do not want to miss out on. But it also comes with a lot of question marks in regulation, from growing to sales to consumption. It is a confusing puzzle of criminal, medical, moral and financial consequences that needs to be worked out before it even becomes viable.


Turn on the financial news stations today and you are bound to hear predictions and news about the hottest new marijuana stocks. Canada federally legalized marijuana for recreational use in October 2018, and over the last year most of the world’s biggest beer companies have jumped into the game, partnering with or buying equity in some of that country’s larger marijuana corporations. Heineken, Constellation Brands (Corona/Modelo), Molson, Coors, and AB INBev have all anted up with multimillion-dollar investments.


One reason for this is the underperformance of beer markets as a whole in states where weed is recreationally legal, such as Colorado, Oregon and Washington. While the markets for beer and pot appear to overlap quite a bit, legalized weed would appear to compete with beer rather than help it since growing numbers of retailers have made it nearly as accessible as alcohol. Studies have also shown a decrease in alcohol use in young adults in these places. Through these new strategic partnerships, therefore, the goal is to produce cannabis-infused beverages that may one day make up a large portion of the adult-beverage market, and make up sales lost to competition between vices.


Of course, hemp ales or marijuana-themed beers are nothing new to the craft-beer industry. Heady brewers have been toying with the concept for years and producing all sorts of cannabis-themed ales. But in July of last year, Heineken, under its brand Lagunitas, released a nonalcoholic beer in California called Hi-Fi Hops that was the first to contain THC and CBD, the psychoactive and medicinal chemicals in pot. This “beer” is the first of its kind sold in the United States and is planned for release only in legal markets. Like any trend in the beverage industry, I am sure we will soon see the rest of the companies follow suit.


One day, brewers might not even need to infuse their beverages with THC from plant-based sources. Scientists have successfully engineered and are experimenting with yeast strains that produce cannabinoids instead of alcohol. This ability will be highly important in the study of various cannabinoids in the medical field as it will allow for the complete isolation of the different chemicals and could one day be scaled to become a much more efficient and precise method of production of cannabinoids than the traditional botanical grow, which requires a lot of time, electricity, space and water.


The “green rush” is certainly in full effect, and while politicians sort out the intricacies and implications of legalization, big business is preparing for a potentially huge new market to explode. Beer companies, which seemingly have a new industry to compete with, are stuck with no other option than to jump in or get left behind. It remains to be seen how ubiquitous weed products will become in future years, and if the substance can ever shed its sullied image from years of living in the illegal underground.


Will pot and beer reunite like long-lost brothers, or will a new rift pull them apart? Will cannabis drinks be a passing fad, or could they replace alcohol as the predominant style of beer? The answer, of course, is that we have to wait and see. One thing is for certain: We live in an interesting time.


Hemp Ales to Try That Won’t Get You High

• The Hemperor HPA (Hemp Pale Ale) by New Belgium Brewery

• Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale by Humboldt Brewing

• Hop Hash Easy IPA by Sweetwater Brewing

• Pinner by Oskar Blues

• Two Flowers IPA from Ithaca

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