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Michigan hemp farmers collect first harvest for CBD products

Farmers harvesting the first batch of legal hemp Friday said they could be looking at Michigan’s next big cash crop.

For the first time, nearly 600 farmers are harvesting legal hemp across the state. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development issued the first industrial hemp licenses to farmers earlier this year, allowing local entrepreneurs to enter the market for hemp-infused healthcare products -- promoted as a treatment for headaches, chronic pain and anxiety -- that consumers are finding everywhere from retail storefronts to shelves in Family Video stores.

Hemp is a fast-growing strain of cannabis with extremely low levels of THC, which means users can experience therapeutic benefits without getting high. The crop also has environmental benefits; it takes less water, is naturally resistant to pests and can be introduced into rotations with other cash crops like corn and soybeans to clean pollutants from the soil.

“The de-stigmatization is a big part of building this supply chain, understanding there is a lot of opportunities economically for framers, theres a lot of benefits to consumers," said Andrew Blake, co-owner of Blake’s Hard Cider and manager of the family cider mill. "There’s also probably some benefits touted out there that isn’t correct that we need to educate and understand. Getting the scientific community behind it and studies done, all of that is important as we try to build this out.

Stakeholders in Kinder Products Unlimited, a new business venture launched in partnership with Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill, celebrated the harvest of seven acres of industrial hemp Friday in Armada. In addition to an indoor greenhouse operation, three acres were planted at a remote outdoor location removed from the orchard’s public fairgrounds to test how well the crop would fare on Michigan farmland.

Blake has plans to plant 20-50 acres of hemp next season. He partnered with childhood friend and attorney Gino Roncelli and cousin Rebecca Blake to launch the new band, which manufactures and sells CBD-infused products using Michigan-grown hemp.

Hemp is used a variety of commercial and industrial goods, but Michigan consumers are most familiar with ingestible products. Roncelli said hemp stalks and stems can be used to create various fibers and textiles, though those goods are several years away due to a lack of any regional production facilities.

“There’s probably not a great use for it at this moment,” Roncelli said. “There should be though, and someone is going to take that opportunity and use it.”

Blake represents the third generation of his family to farm in Armada since his grandfather opened a cider mill in 1946. The operation expanded significantly in the last 73 years and now includes 880-acres of farmland, a sprawling fairground packed with popular fall attractions, a tasting room and production facility for wine and hard cider products Blake launched in 2013 after returning to the family business.

Blake’s Hard Cider is the largest producer of alcoholic cider in the Midwest and 15th-largest in the U.S. From The business on track to sell 300,000 cases this year, all created in a 40,000-square-foot production facility behind its Armada tasting room.

Much of the infrastructure is already in place to begin producing CBD-infused teas, which is key to Blake’s vision for keeping the business vertically-integrated. Blake said the foray into CBD-infused products is a natural extension of his family’s self-reliant entrepreneurial spirit.

Hemp-based self-care products like oils, ointments, facial creams, bath bombs, gummies and even dog treats are already available on Kinder’s online marketplace and the farm’s retail outlets. Four flavors of canned CBD-infused teas will be available later this year, pending FDA approval.

Roncelli said the Michigan hemp market is expected to rapidly expand in the coming years and could replace soybean crops. The alternative crop could be especially for farmers who struggled with the effects of flooding and an ongoing trade fight with China which cut exports of Michigan agricultural commodities like soybeans.

One acre with 1,200 hemp plants can yield roughly $20,000 worth of crops -- a figure that blows other cash crops out of the water -- but Blake said the value will likely drop as other farmers begin planting their own crop.

“This is all very exploratory, but we’re all very excited about the opportunity,” Blake said. “As more people get comfortable and understand what it is and isn’t, we hope to be the educating piece.”

Will Kentucky Legislators finally pass a Medical Marijuana Bill next year?

A lot of the focus when it comes to news about cannabis naturally goes to the states that have legalized adult-use and medical marijuana. But it’s important to remember that more than a dozen states in the U.S. still don’t have anything approaching a decent medical cannabis program.

One of those states is my home state of Kentucky. Progress toward medical marijuana in the Bluegrass State has been sporadic and painfully slow. Earlier this year, a bill made it out of a committee in the Kentucky House of Representatives, but went no further.

So, next year activists and advocates from all over the state will descend on Frankfort to do it all again. And with things progressing more each year, there is a lot to be optimistic about going into 2020. “Our odds are improving. Citizens are speaking about cannabis more & more which in turn is making our legislators feel more comfortable,” Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, told The Marijuana Times.

“We’re fortunate to have a tenacious fighter like Representative Jason Nemes in the House. He and Rep Diane St. Onge worked their caucus hard to gather 53 Co-sponsors & 65 yes votes during the 2019 session. That’s over half the representatives sponsoring the bill, and over 2/3rds that say they’ll vote yes. 

“Hopefully 2020 will give legislators the courage to move medical cannabis legislation forward in Kentucky.”

Next month Kentucky voters will go to the polls to decide who will be governor. Both current Governor Matt Bevin (R) and his Democratic challenger – Andy Beshear – have expressed support for medical cannabis, although Beshear has said it’s something he would like to see on a statewide ballot.

So what it all really comes down to is the Kentucky General Assembly. If you live in the state make sure you find and contact your legislator and make sure they know you support medical marijuana. Besides the Internet, there are also mail and phone options available for contacting your state reps.

Kentucky has emerged as a nationwide leader when it comes to industrial hemp, but there is still a long way to go for hemp’s medicinal cousin in the Bluegrass. And although hemp’s very powerful champion – Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) – seems to be aware of broader cannabis issues, there is nothing to suggest he would intervene on behalf of medical marijuana patients in Kentucky and throw some clout around in the statehouse.

So it’s up to us, the people of Kentucky, to seize the momentum and get medical marijuana across the finish line in 2020.

Hemp may soon be big business for Texas farmers

Industrial hemp and it’s blossoming future in Texas is a popular topic these days, admits Joshua McGinty, AgriLife crops expert.

“There’s a lot of people who show up for and against hemp production,” said McGinty, an assistant professor and extension agronomist at Texas A&M. “But either way, they show up – and pay attention.”

At 7 a.m. Wednesday, McGinty will offer his presentation “Current Legal Status and Possible Hemp Production in Texas” at the Victoria Community Center, 2905 E. North St.

Since Texas hemp production was made legal as of Sept. 1, many South Texas farmers have wondered whether the controversial crop is also profitable.

“It tends to boost attendance wherever we go with that,” said McGinty, who has already given at least several presentations about hemp growing.

Industrial hemp is the agricultural cultivation of strains within the Cannabis sativa species, which also includes marijuana.

But unlike marijuana, hemp is defined as containing less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, a chemical that can intoxicate when ingested.

Industrial hemp, McGinty said, is used primarily in three ways.

Its fibers can be fashioned into textiles; its seeds can be used for cooking, livestock feed and other applications; and cannabidiol or CBD, a nonintoxicating chemical it produces, can be harvested and administered to treat all sorts of ailments from insomnia to anxiety to chronic pain.

While there soon may be money to be made, the market for industrial hemp is still uncertain in Texas, particularly with those centered on hemp seeds, McGinty said.

That’s in part because while hemp production may be technically legal, a lack of regulations effectively mean the plant cannot yet be cultivated in Texas, he said.

”You can’t actually grow it until the Texas Department of Agriculture puts in place the regulations around it,” McGinty said.

Those guidelines are expected to be implemented as early as spring 2020, he said.

Also still to be determined, he said, are the best methods and approaches to growing industrial hemp in South Texas.

Looking to Oklahoma as an example, McGinty said Texas agricultural officials may establish unique requirements for hemp, such as field inspections just before harvest.

With hemp and marijuana so closely related, farmers of the legal plant might accidentally harvest a plant bearing an illegal percentage of THC.

That’s why farmers should be wary of some environmental effects and the importance of picking the right hemp strain, he said.

But most of all, he said, farmers should be aware of the law, which McGinty said he will explain.

“By far the most important thing is where we are at legally. There’s a lot of people gearing up for hemp in Texas, but you need to pump the brakes a little bit until we have a set of regulations to work off of,” he said.

Medical marijuana popularity surging in Illinois as revisions in law allow greater access for patients

The medical marijuana program in Illinois is seeing record growth since changes in the law greatly expanded the program and made it easier for patients to participate.

More than 87,000 patients have qualified for the program since stores opened in November 2015 — including a spike of almost 37,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30, a 93% increase, according to state records. The surge of new patients exceeds the number signed up in any previous fiscal year, based on the latest annual report on medical cannabis by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The number of patients has continued to climb, according to the state’s monthly reports, since the state dropped requirements for patient fingerprints and criminal background checks in 2018, and added 11 new qualifying illnesses in August including common conditions such as chronic pain, migraines and arthritis.

Retail sales exceeded $22 million in September alone, almost evenly split between cannabis flower and concentrates and infused products.

The annual state report, which includes data through June, sheds further light on the growth and demographics of the medical cannabis industry.

Since becoming legal as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in 2016, post-traumatic stress syndrome has become by far the most common condition cited by patients.

More than 8,600 patients were certified by doctors as having PTSD, followed by severe fibromyalgia, spinal cord disease, and cancer as the most common conditions.

The two most popular conditions act as umbrella terms for a variety of conditions, patients and industry experts said. PTSD serves as a catchall for mental health conditions that are not on the list of qualifying conditions, such as anxiety or depression, while fibromyalgia can act as a stand-in for chronic pain, which was not previously a qualifying condition.

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Jim Champion, of Somonauk, is an Army veteran with multiple sclerosis who led the fight for medical marijuana in Illinois. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Army veteran Jim Champion has multiple conditions that qualify for medical marijuana, including multiple sclerosis and osteoarthritis, but some days, he said, his fibromyalgia is worst of all.

“It is awful,” he said. “It sends sharp pains through my neck and shoulders. Sometimes I just want to chop off my arms it hurts so bad. It can be completely debilitating.”

The one thing that helps, he said, are medical marijuana edibles. “That fixes me right up, more than any of the pills the Veterans Administration used to give me,” he said.

A study published in June in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that cannabis was a safe and effective treatment for more than half of the 367 patients treated.

Jim and his wife, Sandy, were instrumental advocates in getting Illinois’ medical cannabis law passed, and in expanding access to it. Jim was a member of the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board until it was disbanded as part of a political deal to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition in 2016.

People with medical conditions like fibromyalgia, a disorder known for widespread pain, fatigue and mood effects, share information, and that can lead more patients to come forward seeking help, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple said. Patients are required to get a doctor’s certification that they have a qualifying condition, and doctors must document any health problem cited, said Mendoza Temple, medical director of integrative medicine for NorthShore University Healthcare, who has certified some 400 patients.

“I’m getting more and more interest,” she said. “It’s bringing out people looking for relief.”

Cannabis doesn’t work for all patients, and some take too much and have bad experiences, as with any drug, she said. Now that chronic pain is a qualifying condition, she said, people may no longer need to cite fibromyalgia.

In addition to the existing medical marijuana program, the new Opioid Alternative Pilot Program, which started early this year, allows patients to obtain medical marijuana in place of prescription painkillers. It has registered an additional 2,200 new patients — most of them for joint, back or neck pain — with another 1,000 awaiting physician certification, the state report found.

The number of patients seeking to replace opioids is relatively small in part, industry members said, because physician certification of patients lasts only 90 days, compared with regular patient certifications of one to three years.

Also this year, the state began issuing provisional access registration cards to let patients and their caregivers buy medical cannabis while their applications are being processed.

In August 2019, the state added 11 new qualifying conditions, including chronic pain, migraines, anorexia nervosa and autism, but the report only covered the state’s fiscal year through June 30, so did not include those conditions.

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Patient consultant Mickey Nulf hands product to client Michelle Farina at Columbia Care medical cannabis dispensary in Chicago in June 2019. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

Since sales began in November 2015, the medical cannabis program in Illinois has had about $200 million in wholesale sales, and $364 million in retail sales — a markup of about 76%, which has increased with greater demand this year.

About 4,500 physicians certified patients for medical cannabis in the most recent fiscal year. Most certified fewer than 25 patients, but 58 physicians certified more than 100 patients each. One unidentified physician submitted certifications for patients to substitute cannabis for opioids more than 1,000 times.

Most of the patients — 55% — were 50 years old or older. The number of patients was distributed fairly evenly across all age ranges, though those under 30 made up only 11 percent of patients. The number of men and women was split almost evenly, with slightly more women participating.

Geographically, not surprisingly, Cook County, the state’s most populous county, had the most patients by far with 17,587, followed by the collar counties and Winnebago County, where Rockford is located. One-third of the counties had 60 patients or fewer.

Of 21 licensed operating cultivation centers and 55 licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, the most popular by far was the Clinic Mundelein, with 2,550 patients, followed by Dispensary 33 in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, EarthMed in Addison, 3C Compassionate Care Center in Naperville, and Moca Modern Cannabis in Chicago’s Logan Square —all in or near relatively affluent areas.

Linda Marsicano, a spokeswoman for Green Thumb Industries, which operates the Clinic Mundelein and 3C, credited their patient care specialists for providing personalized service and public education.

Israel’s medical cannabis reform continues to benefit nearly no one

Israel’s medical cannabis patients are making another step in their battle against the country’s new regulation, which came into full effect in early September. Intended to help standardize the industry by requiring more stringent quality control and adding pharmacies as middlemen between growers and patients, the reform has so far resulted in market shortages and hiked prices. Now patients are demanding that pharmacies hand all their unstandardized supply back to the growers.

Before the reform, patients with a medical cannabis license paid a fixed sum of NIS 370 (approximately $105) a month regardless of the amount they were prescribed. Now, pharmacies charge NIS 180 (approximately $51) per 10 grams, meaning anyone buying over 20 grams is paying more than they did before the reform. Additionally, the Ministry of Health has forced growers to hand over all product that does not meet the new quality standard, to accustom patients to the new procedure.

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Israel’s medical cannabis patients have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court some months ago to put a stop to the new regulations. The court has ordered the ministry of health to extend all pre-reform patient licenses until March 2020, enabling those patients to continue buying cannabis products according to the old pricing and standard. Last week, Israeli nonprofit the Medical Cannabis Association sent a letter to all growers, stating that despite the court order some growers have refused to comply and supply product according to the old prices. In the letter, the association threatened to appeal the court to hold violating growers in contempt.

Now, the association is taking its battle to the pharmacies. On Friday, the association sent a letter to umbrella organization the Pharmaceutical Association of Israel, stating that according to the court ruling they must either return all non-standardized cannabis product to the growers or sell it according to the old prices. Pharmacists must comply with the court order, which “supersedes any administrative directive to the contrary,” the letter said.

David Papo, chairman of the Pharmaceutical Association of Israel, told Calcalist that the pharmacists are but the messengers. It is the growers who are deliberately creating shortages and hiking prices, he said, and the pharmacists are forced to sell according to the prices imposed by the growers.

The pharmacists put the blame for the shortages on the growers when the latter did not hand over their non-standardized supply, and now when the supply has been handed over, they still blame the growers, Dana Bar-On, the founder and CEO of the Medical Cannabis Association, told Calcalist. But the growers are not the only ones at fault for the shortages and the exorbitant prices, Bar-On said. “These are non-standardized products that still fall under the old regulation that are now sold in pharmacies,” she said. “The absurdity eclipses all logic.”

Though no grower has agreed to go on record, several growers who talked to Calcalist on condition of anonymity described their situation as being between a rock and a hard place. They comply with the regulator and the law, they said, but the regulator has “seized” all cannabis products and handed them to the pharmacies, even the non-standardized product that the Supreme Court has ordered could still be supplied outside of pharmacies. It is the health ministry in its role as the regulator that must solve the situation, they said.

Some Indiana farmers uncertain hemp will become profitable

Some Indiana farmers have started harvesting their first legal crop of hemp without knowing for certain whether it will prove to be lucrative.

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill in December , legalizing hemp. Since then, Indiana farmers have taken out permits to grow thousands of acres of hemp for its fiber, seed and cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound also found in marijuana.

The hemp flowers and seeds can be processed for fiber to make paper, cloth, rope, wood-like material or hemp concrete.

But farmers said torrential spring rains across the Midwest either washed out some of their crops, including hemp, or delayed planting efforts, the South Bend Tribune reported .

"The late planting date caused challenges because the plants didn't get as tall, they never canopied and that created weed problems," said farmer Mark Boyer.

Boyer cultivated 50 acres (20 hectares) of hemp for seed production in 2018 as part of a research project authorized by Purdue University. He planted the same amount this year on his farm in Converse, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Indianapolis. He was planning to cold-press the seeds into top quality food oil and then use the leftovers for high-protein animal feed.

But he said there have yet to be any chemicals approved to regulate weeds, bugs or other issues that hemp plants might face as officials still devise hemp production regulations.

"We're still on our own," Boyer said.

Though Boyer was able to use contemporary farm machinery to plant and harvest his seed hemp, varieties bred for their CBD content are usually planted as seedlings, which is very labor-intensive and time-consuming.

Don Zolman said the rainy spring weather also posed an issue for growing hemp at his farm near Warsaw, and extra work was needed to get new seedlings in the ground since some of the others died.

Justin Swanson, an attorney and the Midwest Hemp Council's co-founder, said Indiana farmers planted about 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of hemp plants this year.

With just 24 acres (10 hectares) of hemp planted in Indiana last year, Swanson said he views this year's number as a huge achievement and believes that planting will double or triple in 2020.

Hemp will give farmers — many of whom have been struggling due to low commodity prices — the chance to diversify, and it could generate the next generation of farmers, Swanson said.

A look at cannabis legislation in Countries around the World

Ever since Canada became the first major country to legalize marijuana for adults a year ago, other nations have been paying attention.

The small South American nation of Uruguay was the first to legalize marijuana for adults. New Zealand, Luxembourg and Mexico are among those that have looked to Canada for guidance or lessons, while Russia has chastised it for its “barefaced” flouting of international anti-drug treaties.

Here’s a look at how Canada’s experiment is playing out internationally and where the next attempts at legalization are coming:

United States

States continue to flout federal prohibition and legalize marijuana within their borders, arguing that the nation’s war on pot has drained law enforcement resources, had a disparate impact on minorities and failed to curb the drug’s popularity.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., have now legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, with Michigan and Illinois the most recent of 11 states to OK recreational sales.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives, with significant bipartisan support, passed a bill that would grant legal marijuana businesses access to banking while sheltering financial institutions from prosecution for handling marijuana-linked money. That would clear up a serious headache for the industry. Many pot businesses have had to conduct sales and pay vendors or taxes in cash, making them robbery targets and also making it harder to detect theft, tax evasion and money laundering.

Advocates say the vote was a sign the U.S., long the world’s leading proponent of the drug war, is ready for comprehensive cannabis reform.

Luxembourg

The small nation of about 615,000 people has decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug, and since January it has allowed medical use. Now it is aiming to become the first country in Europe to legalize and regulate recreational sales to adults, a development that could lead to broader cannabis regulation in the European Union.

The government has announced that it intends to legalize sales, with Health Minister Etienne Schneider recently telling the Euronews television network that the country’s cannabis legislation will be “inspired by the Canadian model.” Officials estimate that it will take about two years before legal sales begin.

While Schneider said Luxembourg’s legalization won’t force the hand of other EU nations, he said he intended to speak with counterparts in Germany, France and Belgium, the countries that border Luxembourg, and encourage them to explore the possibility of regulating the drug. In the meantime, Schneider said, Luxembourg will respect their prohibitions by limiting sales to Luxembourg residents.

Mexico

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the government’s ban on the personal use of marijuana was unconstitutional, the culmination of a series of rulings against prohibition since 2015. That’s helped put Mexico on a path toward full legalization. Before he was even sworn in, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent emissaries to Canada to discuss its approach to cannabis.

Things are moving quickly now, with the ruling party’s Senate leader saying the chamber intends to vote on a new legalization measure by the end of this month, following dozens of forums in which politicians, advocates and voters have worked out what a regulated system might look like.

“The importance of Canada having regulated is that it broke the taboo on an international level in a way that Uruguay did not,” said Zara Snapp, a drug policy reform advocate in Mexico City. “For us, what it taught us is there is a path, and that path is possible without there being any apocalyptic sanctions from international bodies.”

That said, after severe drug-war violence, Mexico’s legalization is not likely to mirror Canada’s, where a few massive corporations have dominated production and more artisanal growers have largely been shut out. For example, lawmakers are considering giving greater licensing privileges to indigenous groups, she said.

“We need it to have a way bigger impact than just tax revenue or stock exchange values,” Snapp said. “The things that indicate success in other jurisdictions are not going to be the same indicators of success for us.”

New Zealand

New Zealand will hold a referendum next year on whether to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana — the first country to put legalization to a nationwide vote. Officials are still hammering out the exact language, but in a speech last month Justice Minister Andrew Little said the measure would include a minimum purchase and use age of 20; a ban on using the drug in public; limits on home growing, marketing and advertising; a public education program; and licensing requirements for the entire supply chain.

“The approach we are taking is that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum, it will be necessary to have a regime that affords maximum control, so that the obvious risks can be minimized,” Little told a drug policy symposium last month.

Whether the vote will be binding is a matter of dispute. The three parties that make up New Zealand’s governing coalition have vowed to honor it, but legislation would be required to effect legalization, and the center-right party National has not made clear whether it will support the bill.

Advocates have expressed concern about social justice in New Zealand’s legalization efforts as well, suggesting that its model could strike a balance between Uruguay, where access to cannabis is tightly controlled at a small number of pharmacies, and the more commercial approach taken by some Canadian provinces and U.S. states.

Russia

Canada’s legalization hasn’t been uniformly well received. Russia’s representative to the international Commission on Narcotic Drugs lamented the “barefaced” and “blatant violation by Canada of its international obligations” under anti-drug treaties.

“There exists real danger that some other countries may follow the example set by Canada, which would lead to the erosion and even dismantling of the whole international legal foundation of our fight against narcotic drugs,” Mikhail Ulyanov said.

As recently as this month, Russia’s mission to the UN tweeted: ”#Legalization of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, for recreational purposes constitutes a grave violation of the international law.”

But Russia may have ulterior motives in criticizing Canada, given what many world leaders consider to be its own flouting of international law in annexing Crimea, among other issues.

“Russia has its reasons for trying to call out a country like Canada on its commitment to international rule of law,” said John Walsh, who monitors global drug policy with the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America. “They delight in being able to say Canada is athwart its obligations. But I don’t think Russia’s bluster is going to keep other countries from moving forward.”

Cannabis drinkables are the new edibles: Where, when and how to get them

Why do consumers love drinkable cannabis? Let us count the ways. It's discreet, it requires no special equipment, it tastes good, and it's a familiar and safe delivery system. 

Weed-infused drinks make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the cannabis market. It's a sprawling category that includes tinctures to mix with cocktails; non-alcoholic alternatives to wine, beer, or champagne; wellness beverages that can lull you to sleep or take the place of aspirin or ibuprofen after a strenuous game of hoops or tennis; and sparkling sodas that are as appealing to millennials as they are to baby boomers who aren't comfortable lighting up.

Here are answers to some common questions about cannabis tonics.

Why Are There so Many Drinkables?

Bottoms up! Straddling the lines among intoxicating drinks, wellness shots, and liquid medicine, drinkable cannabis is taking off. According to BDS Analytics, which tracks cannabis trends, there were 88 beverage brands on the market in mid-2019; that's 19 more than during the same time period in 2018. In 2018, beverages made up 6% of the total edibles market in the United States. That percentage is rising steadily and BDS predicts that by 2022 canna-beverages, including THC and cannabidiol (CBD) products sold in dispensaries and non-THC drinks sold in supermarkets, drugstores, convenience stores, and the like could be a $1 billion market. 

A lot of familiar names are behind this boom. Mike Tyson has launched Dwiink, a line of CBD-enhanced water and fruit-flavored beverages whose name is a playful wink to his trademark lisp. Big booze distributors are investing heavily in weedy drinks: Heineken-owned Lagunitas offers Hi-Fi Hops, a pair of nonalcoholic, zero-calorie beverages that come in two dosages, 10 milligrams THC, or 5 milligrams each of THC and CBD per bottle. 

Constellation Brands, which owns Corona beer, Robert Mondavi wine, and Svedka vodka, is investing billions in Canopy Growth, a mega Canadian cannabis producer that's creating nonalcoholic cannabis-infused drinks. Molson Coors is partnering with Canada's Hydropothecary Corp. on a similar venture.

Meanwhile, the maker of Arizona Iced Tea has signed a licensing agreement with Dixie Brands to manufacture and distribute canna-drinks under the Arizona label.

Other companies are expanding into the drinks space, such as Weller, a manufacturer of functional snacks. The Boulder, Colorado, company in 2019 launched a line of CBD-infused sparkling water flavors it calls W+ and a CBD drink mix.  

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W+ is a line of fruit-flavored, BD-enriched sparkling water from Colorado-based Weller, a maker of functional snacks.

Why Did Cannabis Drinks Take so Long to Hit the Market?

Developing a beverage infused with CBD or THC is a lot more complicated than mixing gin with tonic. For one thing, cannabinoids are hydrophobic — meaning they repel water. Drop cannabinoids into water and they'll float to the surface rather than dispersing evenly.

It's taken cannabis chemists a lot of hit-or-miss experiments to overcome this hurdle. SōRSE, a Seattle-based beverage-tech company, is one of the innovators in the field, developing a method to convert cannabis oils into a water-soluble emulsion that has no cannabis taste or smell and that disperses uniformly throughout liquid. The technology is proprietary and Michael Flemmens, SōRSE's vice president of science, will say only that the company uses food-grade components that have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as GRAS, or generally recognized as safe.

The company uses the ingredients to produce THC and CBD-infused products that include Happy Apple, a sparkling, cannabis-infused apple beverage; Utopia, fruit-flavored sparkling water with 10 to 100 milligrams of THC per 12-ounce bottle; and Vertus, an alcohol-free sparkling bubbly that's meant to be an alternative to sparkling wine or Champagne, and which comes in dosages of 50 or 100 milligrams of THC.

Will Drinkable Weed Trigger Paranoia?

Predictability is one of the advantages well-formulated THC-infused beverages have over edibles, said Niccolo Aieta, Ph.D., founder and Chief Technology Officer for Spherex, a Denver-based company that develops cannabis concentrates and whose products include Phyx, a sparkling water brand with microdoses of THC and CBD.

“Cannabis drinks are fast-acting, taking effect within minutes as opposed to several hours with edibles," he said. "That allows users to better control their experience and gives them an overall better experience.”  The Phyx website advises users that, on average, they'll feel the drink's effects in 10 minutes, with the buzz hanging around for about an hour. 

With 2.5 milligrams of CBD and 2.5 milligrams of THC, “Phyx is the equivalent of a nice glass of white wine,” Aieta said. “It's a slight elevation of your daily mood, good for unwinding, relaxing and socializing with friends. For people who are canna-curious, it's a great way to explore and experiment.” 

Flemmens strikes a similar note. “Our biggest seller is Happy Apple with 10 milligrams THC,” he said. “We suggest that inexperienced cannabis users try it on a Saturday night at home, not a Friday night at a party. Drink half the bottle, put it in the fridge and wait half an hour. If you like the experience, you have two choices. You can stay where you are or go for the rest of the bottle.”

The woman-owned and -operated Humboldt Apothecary takes an herbalist's approach to cannabis by formulating tinctures with medicinal herbs to work in concert with the full-spectrum cannabis. The blends of botanical ingredients with cannabinoids not only aid a more rapid onset, according to the company, but also help to achieve certain effects: a peppermint formula for relief of congestion, passionflower and lavender for sleeping, or gingko and rosemary for a brain boost. Humboldt Apothecary suggests using a couple of drops in a mocktail, much the way you might add bitters to a traditional cocktail. 

As for CBD drinks, Scott Van Rixel, CEO of Bhang, which makes a line that includes Wellness Beet Shots with 25 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD, thinks of these as wellness, not recreational, products.

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Humboldt Apothecary makes botanically infused tinctures using full-spectrum cannabis. Its Deep Sleep formula contains passionflower and lavender.

“They're making accessible the benefits of a plant that used to be a part of people's lives on a daily basis,” said Van Rixel, who noted those benefits include relaxation, better sleep, relief from irritability, or inflammation. Van Rixel suggested that consumers might want to think of CBD beverages the way they do energy drinks: Find the dose — a single shot in the morning or several throughout the day — that works best for them.

Where Can You Buy These Products?

That's complicated. Very complicated. Regulations are an ever-changing mess, with state and federal rules sometimes contradicting each other. The FDA published a statement that noted the agency is aware that products on the market are adding CBD to foods or labeling CBD as a dietary supplement. However, the agency advised that, “Under federal law, it is currently illegal to market CBD this way.”

Consumers can start with a product's website for “where to buy” info. Some drinks are being tested in one or two cannabis-friendly markets, such as Colorado or Washington, or in Canada, where cannabis is legal nationwide.  Dispensaries in states where marijuana is legal also are carrying an ever-expanding selection of beverages with THC and CBD. 

Many CBD drinks can be shipped to all 50 states. Thanks to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, some states allow beverages with hemp-derived CBD to be sold in groceries. For example,  Queen City Hemp CBD Seltzer, which was launched in 2017 and was the first CBD seltzer in the U.S., is sold at retailers in 26 states, including several conservative states such as Alabama, Texas, and Georgia. However, the sparkling beverage cannot be sold in cannabis-friendly California because of complex state regulations.

Queen City's founder, Nic Balzer, who's part of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, echoed the views of others in the canna-beverage biz when he said, “There are a lot of regulatory challenges and we're hopeful that the FDA will make a ruling soon that will clarify these laws.”

8 tips every home marijuana chef needs to know

Baking, cooking and mixing food and drink with cannabis extracts and concentrates is a fine art that can take a really long time to perfect. It’s science, after all.

With the right techniques, you can skate by even as a beginner. Use this list to make sure your knowledge is up to speed as a marijuana chef so you can avoid any crucial and potentially money-wasting mistakes.

Clean your cannabis

Some plants, especially outdoor plants, can be contaminated with dirt, bacteria and even bird poop. Avoid this first off by purchasing clean nuggets from a reliable source. Fix a bad situation by gently boiling the nuggets, since boiling water is not hot enough to mess with the cannabinoids that you’re targeting with any infusion.

Decarboxylate

The decarboxylation step converts the active ingredients into tissue-penetrating THC from THC-A in the raw plant. Skip this step and your edibles may hit you hours later in your liver, rather than in your mouth, stomach, esophagus, etc where they will work faster.

Strain with gloves

Do not press or strain with your bare hands. Not only is it unsanitary, you will get stoned. The sheer amount will definitely make you feel something. People say that’s not true, but it has happened to me a few times when breaking this essential rule. Plus, you can use a spatula to salvage the last drops of your brew from gloved fingers; you can’t do that with your bare hands, ew.

Use devices where possible

Devices can be helpful in that they do a lot of the tricky work for you. Temperature regulation, stirring and timing are all things you can screw up no matter how great of a chef you are. When I tried the Magical Butter, I realized that technology is about to run wild in the cannabis world.

Use a good saturation ratio

Try not to overpack any infusion with nugs; you need to have enough liquid to actually strain out. The less liquid you use, the harder it will be to recoup liquid filled with goodies. A good starter ratio is one g material per one oz. of medium, be it alcohol or glycerin.

Invest in a Sodastream

If you like mixing mocktails and cocktails with your creations, buying seltzer in cans and bottles is not only bad for the environment, it’s bad for your wallet. A Sodastream pays for itself in months and you will always have bubbles on hand.

Freezer is your friend

Save anything you don’t eat right away in the freezer, where its shelf life will be greatly increased. Even a bottle with a few drops of olive oil left can dress a salad when the time comes. Same goes for the brownie you smartly cut in half. Stash it in the freezer where it won’t start to go bad. Top it with ice cream another day!

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Save anything you don’t eat right away in the freezer, where its shelf life will be greatly increased / Photo: Roschetzky IstockPhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Don’t go overboard with the heat

One reason you don’t see a lot of sautéed or deep-fried cannabis items is for the simple reason that direct heat like that in a pan or grill could burn off those party vibes and leave you with sleepy CBN. You can grill and fry things, but try to leave it to things that cook quickly, or add the cannabis after the fact.

Ovens are such a common application because of the steady and controlled heat. Staying under 350 F is the smart plan.

With these tips, you can now avoid most major ganja goofs. Now you can do your best while waiting to be able to purchase cannabis cooking aids in the store like we should have been able to get all along.

What can the end of alcohol prohibition teach cannabis entrepreneurs?

As the United States crawls slowly toward the end of the cannabis ban, the end of alcohol prohibition may provide a roadmap for entrepreneurs.

Nearly 100 years ago, Congress passed a law banning the sale and import of alcohol in the U.S. People who had been drinking all their lives didn't simply quit, as those pushing for the law had hoped. That led to a spike in organized crime, speakeasies and homemade liquor. Thirteen years later, Congress ended the failed experiment by repealing prohibition in 1933.

Cannabis and its byproducts have faced a much longer road. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a few states placed restrictions on the sale and use of cannabis products. After the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, cannabis became de facto illegal in the United States. Successive laws, such as mandatory sentencing requirements, reinforced that position.

Prohibition’s Clues For Cannabis

Americans’ relationship with marijuana has come a long way since the days of “reefer madness.” Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Americans in late 2018 advocated for legalization, up from 16 percent in the 1990s and 32 percent in the 2000s. 

Several states now allow businesses to sell cannabis products legally. Federal legal reform could occur within the next few years, which means companies looking to get ahead of the cannabis craze need to know what to expect.

Still, as Oregon startups learned, cannabis products don’t sell themselves. The post-Prohibition 1930s showed that markets take time to adjust. Whether you’re already in the industry or plan on joining it, be sure to:

1. Prioritize Education

At the end of Prohibition, a generation of people who had been told alcohol was an illegal poison suddenly found themselves able to buy it at supermarkets. Some reacted recklessly, drinking too much and at inappropriate times, while others’ worries kept them from purchasing it at all.

Create a stable customer base by emphasizing education, even for non-psychoactive products. Hawke Media, a marketing agency that works with CBD brands, suggests appointing a chief education officer. This executive’s role should span marketing and product development, using content and packaging to describe the drug’s effects, how to consume it, when to take it and more.

Just as importantly, the chief education officer should ensure compliance with federal and state regulations that prohibit cannabis companies from making medical claims. Despite the fact that people use CBD and cannabis medicinally, there isn’t enough research available yet to sell them as solutions for particular conditions. Be cautious with your phrasings to stay on the right side of the law, especially as that law evolves. 

2. Skip Traditional Marketing Strategies

Even after Prohibition ended, most alcohol companies followed a semi-voluntary advertising ban until the 1990s. Long barred from advertising on television and radio, the internet gave alcohol companies a new form of media to explore. Shortly thereafter, Seagram opted to break the longstanding arrangement, and the rest of the industry followed along. 

Although a similar relaxing of restrictions may be coming for cannabis companies, entrepreneurs in the space shouldn’t count on traditional media. Because the drug is in a legal gray area, many digital and print platforms opt to avoid the controversy entirely. 

Bypass advertising bans by exploring alternative channels. Invest in tactics that promote positive word of mouth, such as influencer, email and social media marketing. Not only does getting your fans to do your marketing for you save money, but it means you don’t have to worry about where the line is with each media outlet. 

3. Welcome New Audiences

Young people may be the poster children for legalization, but Millennials aren’t the only ones interested in cannabis. Other market segments, including aging Boomers, are curious about whether cannabis derivatives like CBD can alleviate their aches and pains.

A recent Cision study that reviewed social media content about CBD suggested its audience may range from working professionals to cancer patients. More than 280,000 posts mentioned pain management, including joint pain, inflammation and chronic cancer-related pain. About 250,000 spoke to CBD’s effects on mental health issues like anxiety, depression and insomnia. 

By the end of Prohibition, campaigns against alcohol use had painted drinkers in a poor light. People who’d only been exposed to anti-alcohol content would not have believed safe, moderate drinking to be possible. Cannabis products face the same battle, so be ready to combat stigmas and embrace skeptics. 

Research, regulations and consumer sentiments move more quickly today than they did in the 1930s. When federal regulators finally give cannabis the green light, get ahead by applying these lessons from Prohibition's aftermath.