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Posted July 2019

The new reality: cannabis and beer

Cannabis drinkables | Once an illicit drug, legal cannabis is now a fast-growing multi-billion dollar business. Despite the confusion and contentions, it is proving to be disruptive, impacting everything from beverages to home construction, while sparking a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship amidst increasing consumer demand.

Cannabis has gone mainstream in the US, and I had no idea. Last year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, proved an epiphany when I went to the country music mecca, the 2,200 seat Grand Ole Opry, for a show. One of the early acts was a singer, well into her 70s, who in between numbers joked that she did not understand all this excitement around the legalisation of cannabis. Why legalise it? Didn’t everybody grow pot on their balconies? I kid you not: the whole auditorium, packed with mostly well-off, white, middle-aged people, giggled knowingly.

2018 was a momentous year for cannabis. The economic and cultural reverberations of its gradual legalisation should not be underestimated. The hype around it just ballooned as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau honoured an election promise and the country prepared to legalise cannabis for people aged 18 to 21 (depending on the province) in October 2018, the second country to do so after Uruguay. Surveys, which showed that Canadian adolescents have one of the highest rates of cannabis use worldwide, received far less media attention. Even when studies came out, which added substantial weight to the evidence linking cannabis consumption to the onset of psychosis and depression, as well as having a negative effect on young people’s cognition (learning and memory), few media pundits seemed to care.

On the contrary, cannabis quickly became chic and “canna-tourism” the latest craze in travel. As media began to regale their readers with recommended cannabis cookbooks, fashion accessories and beauty products, Barneys, in its Los Angeles department store, prepared to open The High Life, a cannabis-centric store within a store, showing that the luxury life definitely includes weed.

At the stock market, champagne glasses were clinked too. The legalisation of cannabis in Canada had created a veritable gold rush, with many stocks related to the industry skyrocketing. By mid-2018 there were 90 listed Canadian cannabis firms with a market value of over USD 30 billion. Very few companies will live up to their lofty expectations, if the US does not legalise cannabis in the next three to five years. But who said that investing in novel industries would be risk-free?

A word on terminology is in order here: I learnt by way of Jackie Bryant’s post on the San Diego City Beat that in polite American society the term marijuana is taboo. Acceptable terms are cannabis and other less harmful words like weed, herb, grass, pot and other euphemisms. In the US, marijuana comes with racist baggage. In the 1930s, The Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ first director, Harry J. Anslinger, wanted to turn public opinion against it and pave the way for prohibition. By appropriating the word marijuana, a term thought to be used in colonial Mexico by indigenous growers, he attached it to black and Mexican working-class communities, thus classifying it as foreign, and therefore, dangerous. His propaganda proved successful. In 1937 President Roosevelt signed cannabis prohibition into law.

In the meantime, consumer interest in CBD exploded. CBD is a cannabis compound, which has been attributed various beneficial health effects, from helping users manage anxiety and insomnia, to relieving chronic pain. As medical data so far merely supports its effectiveness in treating childhood epilepsy, it remains illegal under federal law to market CBD with health claims. Still, at the 2018 Beverage Forum in Chicago, the futurist Faith Popcorn (crazy name, brilliant mind), who is the founder and CEO of New York-based BrainReserve, predicted that the CBD component of cannabis will be seen as a miracle cure to elevate daily life in dozens of ways. Given how our culture is growing more wellness-centric, cannabis could play a vital role in satisfying consumer needs, she said.

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