The blossoming marijuana market is enticing alcohol heavyweights into the newly legal industry.
The world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, plans to invest $100 million (pdf) with partners in non-alcoholic drinks containing the active ingredients in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). AB InBev will team up with Tilray, the Canadian cannabis company operating in 12 countries and backed by billionaire investor Peter Thiel. The beverage research will be conducted jointly with AB InBev subsidiary Labatt Breweries of Canada. Each firm is committing $50 million.
“We intend to develop a deeper understanding of non-alcohol beverages containing THC and CBD that will guide future decisions about potential commercial opportunities,” said Kyle Norrington, Labatt president Breweries of Canada in a statement (pdf).
How long before cannabis “drinkables” hit the market? AB InBev, eager to tap into the fast-growing North American market, is still researching products for Canada. (In 2018, it became the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana.) Sales of legal recreational and medical cannabis in the US hit about $6 billion last year. Analysts expect demand to top $50 billion if weed is legalized nationwide. By comparison, US sales of alcohol were more than $210 billion in 2017.
AB InBev’s efforts have been preceded by mixologists experimenting with marijuana in cocktails. In January, northern California’s Tacolicious restaurant group celebrated the state’s end of cannabis prohibition with cannabis-infused tequila drinks. To avoid tangles with the federal government—US law still classifies most cannabis products as Schedule I drugs, its most stringent category—bartenders poured cocktails with hemp-derived CBD, the tasteless, non-psychoactive substance in cannabis that confers a “body high” rather than the intoxicating hit of THC. Establishments in Oakland, Portland, and Los Angeles have followed suit.
If you need your fix now, home tinkers have already concocted recipes for Turkish Coffee using “canna butter,” cannabis bitters, and marijuana-infused apricot brandy. Cheers.