Cannabis Infused Booze Is Coming To America And It’s Going To Be A Nightmare
Don’t drink and drive.
Don’t smoke weed and drive.
Don’t … drink weed and drive?
It looks like the next problem under the category of “operating under the influence” is going to be weed infused booze.
Researcher Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. expects there to be $600 million worth of cannabis infused beverages in the U.S. market by 2022.
As marijuana becomes more and more legalized across the country, a number of major companies are jumping into the game.
Constellation Brands Inc., for example, has a 38 percent stake in Canopy Growth Corp., which is the largest cannabis firm in America by market value.
To give you some context, they paid $4 billion for that stake.
Then you’ve got Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (you’d know them for Budweiser). They formed a research partnership with Tilray Inc., which each company dumping as much as $50 million into the venture.
Molson Coors Brewing Co. has joined forces with Quebec-based Hexo Corp.
What do they all have in common? They’re developing cannabis drinks that can compete with alcohol.
But here’s the thing – the body handles weed and spirits very differently.
Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. Cannabis – not so much. Edibles and weed-infused drinks are metabolized further down into the digestive process.
We’ve all heard the stories about the guy who takes an edible before leaving Colorado, feels nothing, pops a few more, gets on a plane back home to NYC… and then gets hit at 40,000 feet with a THC high like a rocket ship.
Now combine the two. You have a couple of drinks, but technically you’re sober enough to drive. You get behind the wheel and start the ride home from the bar and then POW – the THC kicks in. Blow into a breathalyzer and you’re fine. But are you really?
Officer Jason Moss is a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) with the Manchester, Connecticut police department. He points out that the problem marijuana poses to law enforcement is bigger than people realize, and is an even greater danger.
“Individuals driving under the influence of marijuana, while ‘driving high’, pose a bigger risk to society as a whole than most are led to believe. I have met numerous individuals who believe since the State has decriminalized marijuana, it is legalized,” he said.
According to Moss, people associate “legal” with “safe” – which it clearly is not.
“With that thought process, the individuals believe it is legal to drive a vehicle even after smoking or consuming the marijuana ‘blunt’, edibles, oils etc.”
Moss says it actually takes special training to be able to recognize the problem in the field.
“One hurdle we face while combatting impaired drivers of all sorts, is drugged driving, and driving while high, requires the assistance of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). There are only 53 certified DRE’s in Connecticut at this time, and there’s not always one available. The DRE has been required to numerous weeks of training specifically for identifying an individual under the influence of one of the 7 drug categories, but utilizing the standard field sobriety tests, additional physical tests and clinical readings of blood pressure, pulse rate, pupil size and reaction to light, etc.
It’s a problem that could soon get worse. Many beverage makers are working on making cannabis more water-soluble so it acts more like alcohol and helps deal with the onset timing issues. Before they start mixing weed and alcohol, they’re trying to do one at a time.
One technique being used is called nano-emulsification, which uses a blending agent that basically lets cannabis molecules mix with water more easily. It helps the cannabis mimic alcohol in terms of bloodstream absorption.
One company using this technique is called Cannabiniers, which owns Two Roots Brewing Company out of Nevada. The company says it takes 10 minutes to get high and it wears off in about 90 minutes. They currently make alcohol-infused beer that’s non-alcoholic.
Then you’ve got Province Brands of Canada. What they’re doing is brewing beer from the roots, stalks and stems of cannabis… using them instead of barley.
Robert Lewis is the co-founding partner of Spiritus Law, a firm in Miami that specializes in alcohol and cannabis along with business and regulatory compliance.
“What’s slowing down the research process is the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal. In order to study it, there’s an arduous process,” he said.
First you have to apply to the Drug Enforcement Administration to get a license.
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Then you have to secure a legal supply. The majority of that is held at a 10-acre farm at the University of Mississippi. It doesn’t matter whether marijuana is legal in the state the company is operating – the research process is still the same.
“For much of the past century, cannabis has been illegal. Now what’s happening is that you have an entirely new industry that’s consolidating research into a period of just a couple of years. It’s exciting – but it’s not without its challenges,” said Lewis.
Those challenges include funding just as much as the legality. Spiritus co-founder and partner Marbet Lewis says that is all changing rapidly, but businesses need to understand how to navigate the law.
“With big alcohol companies pumping significant amounts of cash and research into the process, it’s clear that we’ve just scratched the surface,” she said. “But these companies need to make sure they are navigating the legal minefields of operating in an area that’s still federally illegal.”
The market is huge. Spiritus has been inundated with calls from both alcohol manufacturers and marijuana companies all over the country.
“There are so few law firms that have a deep understanding of both the alcohol and the marijuana industries,” said Robert. “But there are even fewer that are willing to help companies to navigate the process and ensure compliance.”