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The Craft

The ultimate resource for alcohol beverage news, trends and reports for bars, distributors and suppliers.

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There was a lot of cannabis optimism heading into 2020: the dusty old stigma had been all but swept away, more states were set to legalize recreational marijuana, and the industry was posting record numbers. Then a global pandemic struck and economies were shut down, throwing a big wrench into the works.

But it wasn’t all bad. Last election cycle, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota all voted to legalize weed for recreational use, bringing the number of cannabis-friendly states to 15 (medical marijuana is now legal in 36). And anyway, as the maxim goes, all good things to those who wait.

If you felt enthusiastic about cannabis markets last year, you should feel even better about them now. The pandemic will soon be under control, and we now have a president who is expected to push for pro-cannabis legislation at the federal level.

The extent of that push remains to be seen, but in the meantime it’s worth training a light on an up-and-coming segment of the market: marijuana-infused beverages.

marijuana infused beveragesGreat Expectations

Infusing a food or drink with cannabis isn’t exactly a new concept and marijuana-infused beverages have seemingly been around forever. The difference today is that the concept is poised to go commercial.

A recent report from market analysis group Prohibition Partners predicts that, by 2024, the global cannabis drinks market will be worth $5.8 billion—growing at a compound annual rate of 45 percent.

If that sounds aspirational, just consider the exponential growth of the adjacent CBD market over the past few years: in 2014 global CBD sales were $3.4 billion; four years later they were $11 billion. By 2025 they’re expected to hit $23 billion.

Clearly, there is enormous consumer demand for cannabis-based products. The Prohibition Partners report states that 25 percent of consumers say they would try a beverage infused with marijuana. Of those who have already had a cannabis-infused drink, 28 percent say they expect to have another in the next three months.

Last year, industry leaders formed the Cannabis Beverage Association, a consortium dedicated to supporting and promoting the marijuana beverage market through advocacy, education and lobbying. Things are happening fast.

But what exactly are these products?

Different Types of Cannabis Beverages

The first thing to note is that, regardless of which state you’re in, you probably already have access to some form of cannabis-infused beverage. That’s because CBD—one of the primary constituents of the cannabis plant—has already been legalized at the federal level, and CBD-infused drinks are sold all over the place.

CBD is a cannabinoid, as is THC. The main difference between the two is that THC makes users “high” while CBD does not. Among other things, CBD helps regulate mood, promote relaxation and improve sleep habits. It also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for people suffering from arthritis and other chronic conditions.

In states where recreational marijuana has yet to be legalized, cannabis-infused beverages will contain only CBD, or CBD with negligible amounts of THC. Moreover, they will not be made from marijuana but rather from hemp, which was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill

Vita Coco recently launched a CBD-infused line of coconut water. A number of other brands, including Ocean Spray, sell CBD seltzer. CBD tea is also quite common.

Companies residing in states—or countries, like Canada—where marijuana is legal have more room for creativity. They can produce drinks that contain CBD and THC, giving consumers a more complete cannabis experience. Such products are already becoming a hit with cannabis users who want an alternative to smoking and vaping.

cbd cocktailCannabis-Infused Beer

In the coming years, the cannabis beverage industry will likely revolve around marijuana-infused beer (or at least cannabis beverages made by breweries). Several breweries already offer products that include THC and CBD. Most of them, if not all of them, are non-alcoholic.

For instance, the Lagunitas Brewing Company has an offshoot called Hi-Fi Hops. It features three zero-calorie, non-alcoholic drinks with varying levels of THC and CBD. “You get all of the fruity and tropical notes from the hops,” Lagunitas brewer Jeremy Marshall explains, “but without all the other things that can weigh you down.”

Additionally, major commercial breweries have signaled that they’re preparing to throw their hats in the cannabis beverage ring. Back in 2018, Anheuser-Busch announced that it was teaming up with cannabis company Tilray to develop a line of non-alcoholic cannabis drinks for the Canadian market.

And last summer, Molson Coors Canada and Canadian marijuana producer HEXO launched a new brand of marijuana-infused beverages. Called Truss Beverages, the line consists of five drinks containing anywhere from 2.5 mg to 10 mg of THC. Each drink also contains CBD.

For now, Truss Beverages are only available in Canada; with that said, it won’t be long before they spill over into the American market. Indeed, under a joint venture called Truss CBD USA, Molson and HEXO are currently working to roll out cannabis drinks in Colorado, which has long been the tip of the spear for pro-marijuana momentum in the United States. Their first product, a CBD sparkling water with no THC, was made available at select Colorado stores in January.

 

With world-renowned companies like Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch in the vanguard, it’s hard not to feel bullish about the immediate and long-term potential of the cannabis beverage market. At this point, it’s just a matter of waiting for public policy to catch up with popular demand.

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