Greenway Magazine
by Tammy Puyear
28 Dec 2020

The countdown to Missouri’s first open dispensary with cannabis available for retail continues and we’re all excited to make that maiden voyage to shop for our favorite products.  Among the many products we anticipate seeing in stores, cannabis beverages are inching their way to the top of our wish list.  In 2020, the cannabis industry as a whole has continued to introduce more and more ways to enjoy the power of the plant and some say 2020 is the year of the cannabis beverage.

While Missouri’s dispensaries are likely to carry flower, cartridges, concentrates and other goods, we think the first quarter of 2021 will be when we start having access to more extensive types of products available.  Among those, cannabis beverages are sure to be a hit.  In looking across the US industry as a whole, cannabis beverages are a hot topic.  Some marketers of these drinks plan on helping new-to-cannabis consumers ease into consumption in a format that is easy and perceived as less hardcore, while other marketing efforts are aimed at offering a substitute to alcoholic beverages.

Canopy Growth, a huge player particularly in Canada, state, “Because there is no global market to look at, legal or illegal, that shows that consumers enjoy consuming cannabis drinks in large numbers.”

Other heavyweights already household names in cannabis circles, such as Los Angeles-based Calexo, launched its first sparkling cannabis beverages earlier this year. “We wanted to make sure the drinks we created were things you could consume lightly and often without compromising your body,” said Calexo’s founder and CEO, Brandon Andrew, on the podcast Dazed and Infused.

Each bottle of the Calexo beverage is packed with all-natural ingredients and 10 mg of nano-emulsified THC, allowing for absorption sublingually through the blood brain barrier rather than through the liver.  There’s no sitting around for an hour waiting for the edible to kick in with these drinks. The onset period is 15 minutes while the offset is about an hour, making it fairly similar to having a cocktail – but without the toll on your body.

“We came at this thinking about our livers,” said Andrew, while on the same podcast. “Our audience is people who are looking to step away from alcohol but still want to keep drinking recreationally.”

Vertosa provides guidance and infusion magic to many of the biggest brands in cannabis beverages, Vertosa provides the chemistry behind crazy futuristic weed products from Somatik, Artet, and NUG. They say the poor consistency, chaotic dosing, and “grassy” taste of cannabis drinks are a thing of the past.

The breadth of cannabis beverage options is as varied as the edibles offerings in multiple legal markets.  Consumers have options ranging from THC-infused individual drink powder packets that dissolve in water to freezable pops (think of the Flavor-pops every Mom in the 70s and 80s brought by the box and filled freezers with for us in the summer) to cans of infused drinks that resemble energy drinks, as well as ready-to-drink coffee drinks.

Newcomers Cann entered the market in California recently and produce “social tonics”  which users say allows them to experience a light, refreshing social buzz within 10-15 minutes. With five simple all-natural ingredients, and 30-35 calories per Cann, they make the perfect substitute for that glass of wine, but without the hangover the next morning.

For those who are more bougie – there are fancy formulations to be found as well.  Artet could be for you. It’s an aperitif for the classy stoner in you: a blend of THC and an assortment of botanicals that include cardamom and chamomile. The company recommends adding it to your mocktail of choice. The recommended 50 ml dose is only 2.5 mg and the entire bottle contains a moderate 38 mg. Artet is currently only sold in California.

Are you more of a beer buddy?  From the creators of Blue Moon, Ceria Brewing Co. developed a line of non-alcoholic beers last year, some of which they infused with THC. The Grainwave Belgian-Style White Ale tastes like the real thing, but only contains 5 mg THC. They even have their own version of an IPA that’s, of course, a higher dose. Today, you can find Ceria in Colorado.    

With summer in full force, our Oklahoma neighbors are hooked on cold and refreshing drinks in the form of a slushie, but not without raised eyebrows from those concerned about compliance. THC-infused slushies have emerged at some Oklahoma medical cannabis dispensaries as a popular summer drink, despite guidance suggesting the beverages run afoul of the state’s regulations and statutes.

“It’s definitely been a go-to right after work just to cool down,” one customer told Tulsa TV station KOTV.  The slushies were prevalent enough that the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority issued guidance earlier this month that the drinks are “unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules.”  Additionally, regulators said that since slushies are considered food products, they must be compliant with Oklahoma State Department of Health food regulations.

But the lack of complete certainty in the guidance or threat of enforcement has caused some MMJ businesses in the state to continue selling the slushies. “They’re completely compliant under my understanding of the law,” Drew Todhunter, an owner of Fighting Flower Dispensary in Tulsa, told KOTV.

He said the dispensary’s $15 premade drink is sold in compliant packaging, including a childproof cup.  “So if it leaves the store in a compliant package, then I personally don’t see an issue with it.”

Is java more your speed? Fairwinds Manufacturing sells Keurig compatible coffee pods – which come packed with 10 mg of THC. Marijuana connoisseurs rave about mixing marijuana with their morning coffee and now the Washington-based company has made it as easy as one-two-three.  The pods are priced at $10 a pop and are currently only available in Washington state.

An interesting product that we haven’t quite figured out how we feel about yet is Kalvara.  The copy in their advertising refers to them as a cannabis cocktail, but for all accounts and purposes, they appear to be a way to add THC-infusions to water via a very technological apparatus that users add water to and then enjoy.

Here in Missouri, we already know we’ll have access to Keef drinks, as Clovr secured a licensing agreement with them to produce their Keef Cola, as well as other flavors from the iconic beverage maker.  As Bethanie White, Clovr’s marketing goddess told us when we featured them in our brands series, the Keef drinks you can expect to see from Clovr include orange, colas, sparkling waters, and more.  “The dosing cups on the Keef products make it easy to determine how much to drink and yet still be able to save the rest for later.”

From a manufacturing perspective, cannabis is notoriously difficult to effectively infuse into beverages. Cannabinoids, the compounds in the cannabis plant, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are fat-soluble and not easily mixed with water. While THC is soluble in alcohol, it is illegal to combine alcohol and cannabis in the United States — so water-based drinks prevail in most cases.

Until our dispensaries are open and able to offer cannabis beverages, there are alternatives in the form of CBD infused drinks available to Missouri’s thirsty masses.  Not everyone who sells THC or CBD infused beverages have cracked the technology code of making successful infusions, but here in our home state Mighty Kind Cannabis and Josh Loyal HAVE.  Collaborating with WellBeing Brewery, and Brennan England of  St Louis Cannabis Club, these groups have come together to provide CBD-infused seltzer, currently available at Pop’s Blue Moon or through St Louis Cannabis Club.

“Their beverages use a high-tech method using equipment from Munich that eliminates the alcohol at room temperature after the beer is fully fermented. Unlike other methods that remove alcohol from beer by stopping fermentation and boiling it off,” said England of the collaboration.  In learning more about this technology, it’s easy to relate, as we see the loss of terpenes and some medicinal benefits when cannabis is manufactured in ways that don’t preserve the integrity of the plant.

We will have dispensaries operational soon, and with the growth of cannabis beverages across the nation, there’s little doubt that 2021 will bring us options that those of us who have tried products in other states are giddily waiting in anticipation for!

This appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of Greenway Magazine.

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Keep an eye out for cannabis beverages