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'Taste the feeling'? Coca-Cola mulls deal with Canadian pot grower for cannabis drinks

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: beverage behemoth Coca Cola is considering a line of cannabis-infused drinks with a Canadian partner; Puerto Rico is in the grip of a mental health crisis as its people struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. is in talks with Edmonton's Aurora Cannabis Inc. to create a line of beverages containing cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical found in pot plants. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Beverage behemoth Coca Cola is considering a line of cannabis-infused drinks.
  • Puerto Rico, still struggling to rebuild and recover a year after Hurricane Maria, is in the grip of a mental health crisis.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


The pot that refreshes

It has been more than 100 years since Coca Cola contained any significant amount of cocaine, the drug that gave the world's favourite soft drink its hard-edged name. But now comes news that the beverage behemoth is considering a line of cannabis-infused drinks.

A report this morning from BNN Bloomberg, citing "multiple sources," says the Atlanta-based company is in "serious talks" with Edmonton's Aurora Cannabis Inc. to create a line of beverages containing cannabidiol (CBD), a non-buzzy chemical found in pot plants. The concoctions would be marketed as "wellness drinks," purporting to reduce inflammation and joint pain.

Coca-Cola's original recipe contained cocaine, but it was removed from the popular pop in 1903. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)
The discussions, now confirmed by both companies, sent a jolt into Aurora's stock prices, with the company's shares trading up $1.19 to $9.73 on the TSX at the noon hour.

The fizz was short-lived for Coca-Cola Co., which opened up slightly on the New York Exchange, but had lost 31 cents by midday, trading at $183.78.

It seems all but inevitable, however, that soft-drink makers are going to get into the booming pot market.

Soda sales have been falling for more than a dozen years, as consumers in the U.S., Canada and Europe turn away from "diet" and sugary drinks in favour of bottled water or "healthy" teas, coffees and juices.

Dale Wilesack looks at cannabis seedlings at the Aurora Cannabis facility in Montreal in November. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
Coca-Cola products still account for 40 per cent of the U.S. and 65 per cent of the global soft drink market. But its 2017 revenue of $35.4 billion US was down almost 16 per cent from the year before, and the company's stock price has been lagging as investors seek out better growth opportunities.

Last year, the company announced a turnaround plan, and a promise to become a "total beverage company" by introducing more low and non-sugar drinks and focusing on "emerging categories."

CBD-infused drinks certainly fit that bill, with some analysts suggesting that market growth for the non-intoxicating compound will far outpace legal pot, hitting $22 billion US by 2022.

(There's speculation that Coke's biggest competitor, Pepsi Co., is also eying the pot-drink market.)

Cannabis drinks produced by Swiss company Hempfy. Canadian entrepreneurs are keen to develop their own original beverages, but Canada doesn't plan to license drinks containing cannabis for another year. (Darryl Dyck/Reuters)
Ottawa's decision to legalize recreational marijuana as of Oct. 17 has turned the country into a sort of pot and R&D lab.

Last month, Constellation Brands, the maker of Corona beer and Kim Crawford wines, announced a $5 billion investment in Canopy Growth, a Smiths Falls, Ont.-based cannabis producer, with the aim of developing intoxicating pot beverages.

Molson Coors also got in on the action, striking a deal with Hexo, a Quebec-based company, to create cannabis drinks.

Canada's legal pot market — estimated to be worth as much as $9.25 billion by 2025 — is expected to quickly rival beer ($9.2 billion a year) and outstrip what Canadians spend on wine ($7 billion) or spirits ($5.1 billion).

And a possible investment by Coca Cola — still the world's fourth-largest brand — will only heighten interest.

Consumers who want to quaff cannabis instead of toke it will have to wait a while, however. The federal government isn't planning license edibles or drinkables until sometime in 2019.

And if the chaos around the rollout of recreational marijuana is any indication, it could well take longer.

With legalized commercial sale of cannabis a month away, many provinces are still scrambling to finalize and roll out their retail plans. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Four weeks from today, there will be just one store selling legal weed in all of British Columbia.

Ontario will have 26 licensed producers feeding online sales, but no retail outlets until the spring of 2019.

Quebec will have at least a dozen stores, but perhaps no staff, since no one has actually gotten around to training them.

Alberta seems best-placed for the impending smokepocalypse, with a well-advanced plan to license 250 private pot sellers, more than the number of outlets in the rest of the country combined.

All of which might create a market craving for a nice, relaxing drink.


Mental health crisis in Puerto Rico

A year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, The National's Ioanna Roumeliotis returned to the island check on rebuilding efforts. What she found was people stuck in bureaucratic and financial limbo, unable to repair their homes and return to more normal lives, and suffering from psychological issues due to the stress and the experiences of recent months.

Ragged U.S. and Puerto Rico flags fly on a roof in May. A year after the passing of Hurricane Maria, many residents of areas of the island hit hard by the storm are still fighting to get FEMA to release disaster funding to them so they can rebuild. (Carlos Guisti/Associated Press)
Going back to revisit a place and a story like Puerto Rico can be a challenge.

On the one hand, there's a familiarity with the people and what they've been through. And yet you want to do more than compare the before-and-after — you want to capture the newness and the nuance of what's happening.

But a year after Hurricane Maria plunged the entire island into darkness, it was the sameness that was the most striking thing about Puerto Rico. The lack of progress was the biggest issue when we spoke to people, and it's a major contributing factor in what many are calling a mental health crisis.

Suicide rates have spiked since Maria, and as we travelled out of the capital of San Juan we could feel a sort of heaviness in quiet communities along the eastern coast of the island, where the eye of the hurricane hit.

A 24-hour crisis hotline called 'Linea Pas', located near San Juan, is receiving around 600 calls day, 30 per cent of which are related to suicide. (CBC)
There are many factors taxing the psychological health of Puerto Ricans. Power, while mostly restored, remains fragile and prone to periodic failures, disrupting daily life. Families have been torn apart, hundreds of thousands have moved to the U.S. mainland, and jobs remain scarce.

In the town of Naguabo, our CBC crew — producer Jennifer Barr, camera operator Ousama Farag and I — met a man named Angel Luis Sandoyal Mendoza. He reminded us of another man we had met the year before when we first went to Puerto Rico to cover the disaster the hurricane had left behind — both have seen their rebuilding efforts snarled in bureaucratic red tape.

Angel is still waiting for FEMA, the U.S. disaster relief agency, to answer his plea for help and for money to rebuild his home. The agency is demanding he produce the deed to the house, to prove he owns it. But the modest home is an ancestral one (his family has lived there for generations) and that kind of paperwork, even if it did exist, would have been lost in the hurricane that tore away the roof and several walls of the building.

Angel Luis Sandoyal Mendoza stands in front of the remains of his house in Puerto Rico. The missing walls and roof have not been rebuilt because he is locked in a dispute with FEMA over funding. He lives in a remaining back bedroom with a tarp for a roof. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)
Tears streamed down Angel's face as we stood talking under a blue tarp strung between the remaining walls of his home, and yet a man without even a roof over his head kept insisting he was OK. That there were people worse off.

The plight of Angel, a man drained and exhausted from fighting an inhuman bureaucracy, was one we encountered again and again on the island.

When we left him standing in the ruins of his home and his life, we couldn't help but wonder how much strength he has left to face the sameness of all the tomorrows to come.


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A few words on ...

Running at full potential.


Quote of the moment

"I know this is no justification. But Mia was never kind to me, never civil. And here was a chance for someone showing me affection and being nice to me, so of course I was thrilled and ran for it."


- Soon-Yi Previn  addresses her 25-year relationship with Woody Allen in an interview with New York magazine, calling his shaming by his ex-partner — and her stepmother —Mia Farrow "unjust."

Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn in New York City in July 2016. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Missing 6-year-old Saskatchewan girl found safe after Amber Alert (CBC)
  • Kavanaugh accuser willing to testify, her lawyer says (Washington Post)
  • Typhoon Mangkhut: Hong Kong in tatters, millions evacuate in China (CNN)
  • Germany's Merkel backs Austrian bid for stronger EU borders (Deutsche Welle)
  • Pakistan's Khan pledges citizenship for 1.5 million Afghan refugees (Guardian)
  • 5 former Bloc Québécois MPs returning to fold (CBC)
  • Russia claims fresh 'proof' Ukraine downed flight MH17 (Agence France Presse)
  • Leak reveals Assange plan to flee to Russia (Sky News)

Today in history

Sept. 17, 1985: The tainted Star-Kist tuna scandal

"Tunagate," as it was inevitably dubbed, might stand as the most Canadian scandal ever — no sex or intrigue, just a government minister extending a questionable bit of corporate welfare. This Fifth Estate documentary started it all by exposing the fact that one million cans of tuna, deemed "unfit for human consumption" by inspectors, had been quietly allowed to hit grocery store shelves. John Fraser, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, initially defended his decision, suggesting that the standards were too strict, yet soon stepped down. No one was sickened by their sandwiches or casseroles, but it didn't matter. New Brunswick's embattled Star-Kist plant closed down after the company lost almost all of its market share overnight.

Cans of rancid tuna bring down Fisheries Minister John Fraser. 19:18

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.