A cannabis Coke and a smile? Colorado companies hoping to tap infused beverage craze

When Coca-Cola publicly announces it is sizing up business opportunities in an industry, people take notice.

That was the case in mid September when Coke — the world’s largest beverage company with a market cap north of $211 billion — said it was keeping an eye on cannabis infused drinks, with a particular focus on beverages containing the non-psychoactive compound CBD. The announcement sent pot stocks soaring.

Coke may be on the sidelines for now, but at least one notable producer of bubbly beverages isn’t waiting around. Denver-based Molson Coors Brewing Co., one of the largest beer makers in the world, launched a joint venture this summer with a Canadian cannabis company with the aim to create alcohol-free, infused drinks.

Bad news for Coors Banquet lovers who also enjoy cannabis: Molson Coors doesn’t plan to launch a similar venture in the states. Pot’s federal designation as an illegal drug in the U.S. is why.

“Our new (joint venture) will be limited solely to the Canadian market,” company spokesman Colin Wheeler said in an email last month. “We will we only review additional opportunities as and when adult-use cannabis becomes legal at both the federal and local level in a given market.”

It’s not necessarily drinks that provide a buzz generating the most buzz, though. Coke specifically singled out CBD, or cannabidiol, one of the more than 100 active compounds in cannabis, known for its physical relaxation and anti-inflammatory effects and not the high ascribed to its cousin THC.

CBD products can be purchased in many grocery stores across the country, or online through e-commerce sites like Amazon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June approved an oral CBD medication for use to combat seizures.

Dirty Lemon, a New York City-based direct-to-consumer beverage company known for a sizable and enthusiastic Instagram following, ships six-packs of its citrus-flavored cannabis-blend drink around the country for $65 per case. The CBD it contains is “sourced from non-GMO industrial hemp, grown in Colorado under registration by the Colorado Department of Agriculture,” according to its website.

The legal use of hemp and hemp extracts like CBD in food products was codified in a bill signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May. That bolstered a policy the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has been observing since mid 2017. 

The possibilities and the possible profits related to CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids have generated a gold-rush-like excitement and lots of attention.

Denver-based ADM Labs is one of the relative newbies to the industry. The business was launched early this year as a subsidiary of Utah company ADM Group, which is dedicated to building businesses in emerging industries, according to executive vice president Nico Anthony. One of its key products: A water-soluble CBD isolate for use in beverages.

“We liken our business to moving into alcohol right before the end of prohibition,” Anthony said.

Fort Collins craft brewing mainstay New Belgium Brewing Co. earlier this year launched its Hemperor HPA, a twist on an India Pale Ale using portions of hemp seeds for added oomph.

New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson said the company is hoping to tweak the recipe with more hemp components if Congress clears the way with a new Farm Bill. As for a CBD or otherwise infused beer, Simpson said, “We’re certainly open to exploration.”

A Coors Brewing alum and father of Blue Moon Belgium White ale, Keith Villa isn’t waiting on federal approval for his new brew.

Ceria Beverages, the company he and his wife Jodi launched in Arvada last year, will unveil the branding, packaging and pricing for a new line of drinks Monday. They will be brewed like beer, but have the alcohol taken out and THC put in its place. The results Villa said will be a low-calorie beverage that doesn’t leave drinkers with an alcohol hangover. It will be on sale at local marijuana dispensaries in December, he said.

“Young people, millennials especially, are drinking less alcohol and we honestly think that they are looking for something to replace it,” Villa said. “This will be a nice, refreshing way to socialize without alcohol.”

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