Big Beer companies are pouring billions into weed-infused drinks — but can that save them?

Big Beer companies are pouring billions into weed-infused drinks — but can that save them?

The biggest names in shitty beer seek security in cannabeverages

VicesAugust 01, 2019 By Will Brendza

Between the end of the cannabis prohibition and the beginning of the craft beer explosion, companies like Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and other big names in the alcohol industry are starting to feel the sting of competition. Times are a’changin’ and these once-untouchable goliaths are now frantically reaching out for floatsam to grab onto — something they can grasp at to keep their heads above water.

Which is exactly why Big Beer is latching onto cannabis infused drinks like a drowning sailor. They’re hoping to jump ahead of the curve and get in on the ground floor of that “Next Big Thing.”

But is that what cannabis drinks are, the Next Big Thing? Do people really enjoy marijuana beverages enough to justify the all the billions of dollars being invested by these companies?

Big Beer certainly seems to think so:

Last year, Constellation Brands, the company that owns Corona and Modelo, dropped $4 billion on a 38-percent stake in Canada’s biggest bud producer: Canopy Growth. It was the largest ever cannabis investment in post-prohibition history.

Similarly, Anhauser-Busch InBev invested some $50 million in the British-Colombia-based pharmaceutical company Tilray, and Molson Coors acquired a majority share in the Canadian licensed pot-producer HEXO.

Hell, Lagunitas (owned by Heinekin) already has their own cannabis beverages in dispensaries in California: an “IPA inspired sparkling water” infused with THC and/or CBD. It’s called Hi-Fi Hops, and it was described by Leafly as a “stoney, hoppy la croix.”

This is the kind of thing that Big Beer companies want to stake their claim on: cannabis-infused sparkling waters, sodas, teas, juices, and maybe, someday (once regulations allow for it) true alcoholic weed-beer.

But, here’s the thing: actual cannabis users might not be as hot and heavy on the idea of these weed-drinks as are the companies investing in them. Because, as anyone who has dabbled with edibles probably knows, eating (or drinking) marijuana is a lot different than smoking it. The effects take much longer to kick in and can be much more psychedelic than those of smoked cannabis. People panic. That’s real. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it myself. And if you aren’t ready to take that ride, you better not buy the ticket.

It’s part of the reason why ER visits related to cannabis use have increased in states where it’s legal: people don’t understand how to dose themselves with edibles, they eat too much, and suddenly they’re tripping balls. Then they check into the ER because they think they’re having a heart attack or a stroke or because there’s a flesh-eating worm whispering poetry inside their head — but, really, they’re totally fine. They’re just so baked they can’t think straight.

On top of that, when it comes right down to it, cannabis drinks are perhaps the least appealing form of edible marijuana. Often times they taste like bongwater and even if they don’t, they’re really hard to gauge the dosage on. Most come in either very low doses (like 10mgs) and others come in heroic doses (100mgs+) — for the casual drinker/stoner that’s not very appealing.

That’s why, in legal adult-use cannabis markets, infused drinks only make up a meager 2-3 percent of total sales…

And, anyway, it’s a totally different experience, using cannabis versus using alcohol. There won’t be a huge proportion of drinkers who are going to be replacing their beers with cannabis seltzers. That’s simply unrealistic.

So, what’s their plan here? What does Big Beer intend on doing with its fingers so deep in the weed-drink pie?

Only the CEO’s and business advisors who pulled the trigger on these investments know the answers to those questions. But it’s probably safe to assume, that once marijuana is decriminalized or legalized on a federal level in the US, we will start to see an aggressive advertising campaign for weed-infused drinks.

“Drink weed, it’s grrrrrrreat!”

“Pot: it’s what you’re drinking.”

“Do the Dank.”

“GOT BUD?”

If these beer businesses pump enough money into advertising and marketing their pot products, capitalizing on the health benefits of weed opposed to alcohol, and highlighting some of the organic-granola-hippie-dippy details, well, maybe, just maybe, they can make this work. Sell it like kombucha, as the “healthier option” and it could do relatively well.

But only time will tell. Until then, these companies will likely continue buying into canna-drinks, preparing for their big debut and cultivating a public thirst for their products.

Could weed drinks be the next big thing? It’s possible, I suppose (if unlikely). But even if they are, even if they take off and are warmly welcomed by society at large, everyone’s going to be too stoned to notice.