As recreational cannabinoids become legal in more U.S. states, a fight is brewing between legislators and alcohol producers over cannabis-infused booze. All the while, the science of cannabis-infused alcohol is still unclear.
2018 is shaping up to be a big year for medical and recreational marijuana, but one grey area remains in a sea of green: cannabis-infused alcohol.
As more states legalize recreational marijuana, the legal and economic relationship between alcohol and marijuana will become a bigger issue. Just this year, one of the worldâ€™s largest alcohol producers, Constellation Brands, invested $3.8 billion dollars in Canadian cannabis producer Canopy Growth. Now theyâ€™re selling off some of their wine brands as part of a strategic shift to focus on beer and marijuana products.
According to Dr. Bomi Joseph, one of the founders of Peak Health Center, Constellation Brandsâ€™ move points to a broader trend in which alcohol consumption is decreasing worldwide. While some may blame a decrease in alcohol consumption on the rise of marijuanaâ€™s popularity, Dr. Joseph says â€śIâ€™m hesitant in saying thereâ€™s a direct connection between the two because there is a general trend of reduced alcohol consumption across the population, not just among those people actually using cannabinoids.â€ť
Alcohol companies like Ceria in Colorado are looking to capitalize on recreational marijuanaâ€™s popularity by creating THC and CBD-infused beers, but most of the time these products are non-alcoholic. Cannabis wine start-up Saka Wines, is also putting out a cannabis-infused non-alcoholic wine product in California, focused on a female demographic, with female co-founders and board of advisors.
â€” SAKA Wines (@InfusedSaka) November 1, 2018
Lawmakers take action
So, whatâ€™s happening with laws around cannabis-infused alcohol?
Ryan Malkin,Â principal attorney atÂ Malkin Law, P.A., a law firm serving the alcohol beverageÂ industry, advises alcohol producers to â€ślay off the CBD for the time being.â€ť Federal guidelines from agencies like the DEA and TTB are fuzzy on the intersection of alcohol and marijuana.
But several state legislatures this year have taken it upon themselves to clarify the legal relationship between alcohol and marijuana, and its bad news for anyone who wanted enjoy their liquor with an extra buzz while avoiding turning their kitchen into a chem lab.
California passed AB2914 in September, which prohibits the adding CBD oil to any cocktail at a public establishment. Adding CBD oil to cocktails had been a popular in some of LAâ€™s trendiest bars. California also released guidance prohibiting CBD products inÂ foodÂ andÂ alcohol
Rebecca Stamey-White, a partner at the San Francisco-based boutique alcohol and cannabis law firm Hinman & Carmichael LLP, and strategic advisor to Saka Wines, explained that â€śfor the time being, alcohol and cannabis products need to stay in their own lanes â€“ they need to be either cannabis beverages or alcohol beverages, not both.â€ť
In October, Michigan lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a law prohibiting the use, possession or sale of cannabis-infused beer, wine, liquor and mixed drinks in the state. Michigan votes on whether to legalize recreational marijuana in November.
Meanwhile, the demand for alternate forms of cannabis consumption continues to rise. New â€śease of useâ€ť cannabis products grew 323% between 2016 and 2017, and laws will ultimately need to address and enable user demand. â€śA luxury infused wine consumption experience can Â be achieved within these guidelines,â€ť opined Tracey Mason, CEO of House of Saka Wines. â€śBy using alcohol free wines sourced from top vineyards in Napa Valley and then infusing them with terpenes specifically chosen to replicate flavors in wine, we are able to create an elevated wine occasion â€“ without the alcohol and the calories and hangover that comes with it.â€ť
â€” Andre F Bourque â™• (@SocialMktgFella) November 1, 2018
The science of cannabis and alcohol is hazy
While lawmakers are busy determining if you can mix alcohol and cannabis, science has yet to determine whether you should.
Since cannabis use has been illegal for so long in this country, scientists have not studied the interaction of cannabis and alcohol as much as they have studied each one individually.
This is due, in part, to the fact that mixing the two is toughâ€”literallyâ€”according to Dr. Bomi Joseph. â€śPutting CBD in alcohol and beer is not as easy as people think because its soluble in alcohol, but most of these drinks are still water-based. The minute you put any cannabinoid in water, the cannabinoids just float on the surface as a slick.â€ť
Of course, lawmakers arenâ€™t worried about poor product quality and mouthfeel, theyâ€™re worried about the interaction of being high and drunk.
On that topic, Dr. Joseph understands where lawmakers are coming from: â€śAlcohol and THC have different effects on your brain. Both mess with your head and they donâ€™t want the two mixed. They want them separate so people consciously have a choice between the two.â€ť
The science in this area is overall lacking. The best study was conducted by Dr. Scott Lukas of Harvard Medical School. He found that smoking cannabis, then drinking, lowered alcohol-absorption, while drinking before smoking increased THC-absorption. Little research has been conducted around any unique effects of cannabis-infused drinks.