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The month in drinks: Cannabis booze

This month’s analysis of the latest product launches sees Euromonitor International’s Spiros Malandrakis weigh up the pros and cons of Cannabis-laced alcoholic drinks.

This monthly summary highlights the most interesting product launches in April, with a focus on the direction the alcoholic drinks industry is taking in terms of innovative developments.

There are potent, herbaceous notes wafting over North America’s collective drink and it’s not the scent of botanicals from the gin micro distillery down the road. The cannabis revolution is in full swing while the alcohol industry appears to be morosely sitting on the fence, drink in hand, occasionally throwing crumpled cans in the general direction of the on-going legalisation debate.

Visibly Intimidated, insular and inherently conservative, large parts of the alcohol industry acknowledge and highlight the dangers to their penetration rates and profitability but largely fail to see the huge potential behind the plumes of hazy smoke.

It’s high time for some figures. At the time of writing more than two dozen US states had already decriminalised medical or recreational use of cannabis while their numbers are expected to only rise further.

Initiatives to reclassify the substance are also inevitably gaining traction on a federal level while a series of public opinion polls showcase that an ever growing majority is already supporting such moves. Yet cannabis has stopped being an academic or civil rights issue some time back. It is, rather, a multibillion dollar industry in its own right.

According to anecdotal initial estimates, legal marihuana sales already accounted for roughly US$ 7 billion in 2016, a figure that – when given context next to the US alcoholic drinks market- is, already, in a surprisingly equal footing with the cumulative sales of cider and RTDs in the country.

With conservative projections estimating a near fourfold increase in legal cannabis sales in the medium term, there is no question that the industry- still in its infancy- will soon become a much greater disruptor than the once ignored craft segment ever was.

Fighting the surging green tide will hence become an expensive exercise in futility. Ignoring it will guarantee the belated, panicky, knee-jerk reactions that greeted the craft juggernaut once it had already established offensive positions at the macro brewer’s gates.

It will begin with micro-brewers/ distillers and hemp. The former will find it easier to experiment than sclerotic multinationals. The latter – naturally free from the controversial psychoactive components of marihuana – will provide an initial, flavourful embrace of the trend without risking legal repercussions.

But as the cannabis industry is coming of age, the discussion will progress to different varietals, clones, tasting notes and terroir. While psychoactive cannabis Infusions and hybrid products would be the endgame bringing the two industries together, alcohol and marihuana pairings have the potential to benefit them both independently.

Canatourism, ganjiers , cannasseurs, tiered distribution initiatives- the marihuana industry is clearly in the process of adopting the alcoholic drinks industry’s semiotic references and modus operandi. Complementary or substitutes, it’s time for both of them to sit down for a drink. Or a smoke.

Humboldt’s Finest cannabis vodka from Redwood Spirits

Made with food-grade hemp from Oregon and only on sale in California and Colorado, the vodka has a retail price of US$29.99 per 75l bottle.

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