Day 6

Cannabis companies want you to have your weed — and drink it too

As Canada heads towards legal marijuana, alcohol companies are worried about what will happen to their market share when THC drinks arrive.
Companies in the U.S. are developing cannabis-infused drinks in order to create a beverage they believe could one day compete with beer. (Mirth Provisions, Billi Kid/Evergreen Herbal )

David Paleschuck wants adults across North America to be able to order a tall, cold glass of cannabis — right alongside their beer or brandy.

Paleschuck is the vice president of marketing at Evergreen Herbal, a company that distributes and produces cannabis-infused beverages in Washington state.

Recreational customers in some U.S. states can already purchase buzz-inducing drinks in flavours such as 'Dr. Robert's Wild Cherry' and 'Blaze American Cola'.

Paleschuck believes it's only a matter of time until the product is even more widely accessible.

"I see cannabis-infused beverages right next to beer and wine and other alcohol products in restaurants and other [establishments] where adults are served," Paleschuck says.

A selection of the drinks that Evergreen Herbal sells in Washington state. (Billi Kid/Evergreen Herbal)


Cannabis: the new beer?

It's too early to know how products like Paleschuck's could impact a Canadian market.

As Canada hurtles towards marijuana legalization on July 1, 2018, questions still loom about how cannabis-curious Canadians will be able to get their fix.

The federal government has yet to establish firm rules for edible marijuana products, let alone 'drinkables', although it has said it hopes to have such regulations in place by July 1, 2019.

The federal Canadian government has said it hopes to have regulations in place for edible marijuana products by 2019. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Still, that lack of government regulation doesn't seem to be discouraging companies in both Canada and the U.S. from investing in the development of cannabis-infused drinks.

One such company is Constellation Brands, the major beverage conglomerate behind Corona and Modelo. Constellation made headlines this week when it bought a nearly 10 per cent stake in Canopy Growth Corporation, Canada's largest marijuana growing company. 

Cannabis actually has a unique taste unlike what most people think about cannabis when it burns.- David Paleschuck, VP of marketing at Evergreen Herbal

The companies have stated that they plan to work together to produce weed-infused drinks.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Constellation Brands CEO Rob Sands noted that the company hopes to get ahead of the game when it comes to designing new kinds of beverages.

"The consumers are seeking something healthy, something not driven by sugars, not driven by alcohol," Canopy Growth's chief executive Bruce Linton told Vice Money.

Recreational marijuana use will be legalized across Canada in July 2018, but edibles are not expected to be allowed until 2019. (Jim Mone/Canadian Press/AP)


'Blaze American Cola'

In the United States, cannabis-infused refreshments are taking off fast.

Paleschuck's company offers cannabis-infused sodas in flavours that include 'Orange Cream Pie' and 'Moscow Mule'.

He says that while the marijuana does have a distinct flavour, it's quite subtle — nothing like the potent aroma of a joint.

"Cannabis actually has a unique taste unlike what most people think about cannabis when it burns," he says.

Adam Stites is the chief executive of Mirth Provisions, another beverage company in Washington state that produces a line of marijuana-infused drinks.

Mirth Creations creates a cannabis-infused drink called Legal, that CEO Adam Stites hopes will be a stigma-free introduction to cannabis. (Provided by Mirth Provisions)

He attributes a lot of the fear of ingesting cannabis to the stigma that comes with smoking a joint, and believes the beverages will help put potential customers at ease.

"We're generally okay ... being out with friends with an alcoholic beverage," Stites says. "So if we can package that cannabis experience in a way that makes people comfortable, I think that's a net positive, or allows people to try different experience."

Unlike alcohol, each strain produces a unique and distinct effect. So you can really dial in the experience you're looking for.- Adam Stites, CEO of Mirth Provisions

He argues that cannabis-infused drinks come with another benefit that beer can't provide: the option to personalize your buzz.

"Unlike alcohol, each strain produces a unique and distinct effect," Stites says. "So you can really dial in the experience you're looking for."

There's even a burgeoning field of weed sommeliers in Washington, although they go by a different name.

According to Paleschuck, they're called "bud-tenders," and they help pick out the exact kind of strain and flavour you're looking to consume. 

Customers shop for marijuana at Top Shelf Cannabis, a retail marijuana store, on July 8, 2014 in Bellingham, Washington. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

Paleschuck points out that hops, a common ingredient in beer that gives many drinks their distinctive flavour, is a chemical cousin to cannabis.

Hops and cannabis share molecular compounds that define their taste and smell, meaning it may not be that far a leap for beer drinkers to enjoy a weed-based beverage, he says.

Stites and Paleschuck both agree that Constellation Brands' decision to partner with Canopy Growth will help bring momentum to the drinkable cannabis market.

"I think other companies will start to see the light, and soon after they will have their power and muscle and finances behind it to start to change government policy," Paleschuck says.


To hear more from Adam Stites and David Paleschuck, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.