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Like Them or Not, Cannabis Drinks Will Be Huge in 2019

As more states legalize marijuana, companies are betting big on people wanting to sip, rather than smoke, their weed

Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

2018 was inarguably the year of CBD: Marijuana’s non-psychoactive, less giggly compound showed up everywhere promising everything from pain relief to anxiety reduction, from LaCroix-esque sparkling water and high-end gumdrops to body lotion and bath salts (not those kind of bath salts). But while CBD consumption can certainly lend a chilled-out vibe at the proper dosage, to actually get high, there needs to be some THC involved, whether it be smoked or otherwise consumed — and it seems drinking your weed will be a big trend for the year ahead.

Legal marijuana raked in $9 billion in 2017, and with an increasing number of U.S. states legalizing weed for recreational use, that figure is expected to swell to more than $23 billion by 2022. Far from the stereotypical old image of a tie-dye-clad stoner with bloodshot eyes, marijuana use has been transformed into a full-on lifestyle brand: There are weed-laced coffee capsules to start your day, luxury pipes and smoking accessories with hip Instagram accounts to match, subscription boxes catering to the stoner set, cannabis-infused lubes to enhance your sex life, and weed supper clubs where pot aficionados can gather around the dinner table to get high. Legal weed — and the companies profiting from it — wants to permeate every sector of adult life, from replacing your Ambien to setting the vibe for your next boutique hotel stay.

The CBD boom catering to anxious millennials will only grow as cultivating industrial hemp (which does not contain THC) becomes legal in the U.S., but massive corporations (like say, Marlboro) are also increasingly looking to cash in on the kind of cannabis that gets you stoned. Big Tobacco and liquor companies worry that as legal marijuana spreads, people will increasingly replace their cigarettes and beer with weed. And while such corporations getting in on the pot gold rush certainly raises plenty of ethical objections from marijuana advocates, big business goes where the money is, and right now it seems the next big thing is weed drinks, with at least one industry analyst projecting the cannabis beverage market to be worth $600 million by 2022.

Plenty of THC-containing cannabis drinks are already on the market in places where weed is legal for medical or recreational use: Seattle-based Tarukino makes both THC and CBD varieties of apple cider; rapper the Game has an edibles line that includes THC-infused lemonade; and a company called California Dreamin’, which has raised more than $2 million from investors, makes THC sodas in flavors like pomegranate and tangerine.

But it seems the market is about to see a boom in psychoactive drinks backed by big corporate money: Earlier this year Corona owner Constellation Brands invested $4 billion in a Canadian weed company, and shortly thereafter, fellow brewer Molson Coors announced it was teaming up with with a different Canadian marijuana company to “create [a] joint venture focused on non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages,” according to a press release. (Marijuana edibles and drinks are not currently legal in Canada.) Diageo, parent company of spirit brands like Johnnie Walker and Tanqueray, has also been seeking to invest in cannabis.

Makers of nonalcoholic drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have tentatively expressed interest in the space, too, though they’re clearly more reluctant to slap their iconic brand names on adult-oriented products that are still federally illegal in the U.S. (and still have a hefty stigma attached in many parts of the country).

Notably, drinks that contain alcohol legally cannot also contain THC, which is a good thing, lest the legalization of marijuana lead to the creation of some sort of unholy, Four Loko-esque product. While numerous craft brewers have produced so-called weed beers, they won’t actually get you high: They’re simply brewed with cannabis terpenes (a non-psychoactive compound) to add resinous, herbal flavors (and so the makers can slap weed leaves and pot puns on the labels). At least one well-known craft brewer has found a way to get in on the actual weed drinks game, though: Last June, Lagunitas Brewing Co. launched Hi-Fi Hops, a hoppy, non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverage that’s only available at dispensaries.

Recreational marijuana has now been made legal in 10 U.S. states, and with New York governor Andrew Cuomo looking to legalize recreational marijuana in 2019, the boom of legal weed — and weed drinks, in theory — is seemingly only just beginning. The first Cannabis Drinks Expo will be held in July 2019 in San Francisco, the perfect place for big startup money and venture capitalists to commingle with weed growers and professional pot enthusiasts. Pot still being federally illegal complicates things for manufacturers of such products, but numerous companies are still willing to make big-money bets that people will be chomping at the bit to sip, rather than smoke, their weed.

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