Cannabis and hops, the bittering agent used in craft beer, are two closely related members of the cannabaceae plant family. They share similarities in their chemical makeup and sensory properties, but there’s one big difference between them: Cannabis contains the mind-altering psychoactive component THC. Additionally, the industries that utilize cannabis and hops also have a lot in common (link to first article). As cannabis legalization develops in New York State, it’s likely that the first THC- and CBD-infused products to hit shelves will come from the craft beer sector.
Signs of High Times
The signs of this trend are already here. AB InBev’s 2020 annual report thoroughly discusses research and investment in THC- and CBD-infused craft beer, categorizing it as a “risk” due to federal restriction and consequential distribution challenges. In New York State, Constellation Brands, a premium wine & spirits brand portfolio, has invested over $4 billion in acquiring Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis company.
In states like California, Colorado, and Maryland where the cannabis industry is more established, collaborations between cannabis growers and craft brewers are alive and well. Lagunitas was one of the first to release a series of THC-infused nonalcoholic beers in partnership with AbsoluteXtracts in 2019. Many have followed suit, including New Belgium’s CBD-infused “The Hemperor,” Ceria Brewing Co.’s “Indiewave” with both CBD and THC, and Flying Dog’s “Hop Chronic” infused with THC from Green Leaf Medical Cannabis.
What’s Legal in NYS Now?
While there have been a few low-profile cannabis beer releases, it was only officially made legal in New York State as of March 2021 with the passing of the MRTA (Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act).
A few key elements of the legislation worth noting:
Any THC-infused product cannot contain more that .3% tetrahydrocannabinol.
Individually packaged products cannot contain more than 25mg of CBD (cannabidiol).
Products must be packaged by the manufacturer; there can be no altering of the products at the retail level (that means no getting creative with tinctures at your beer hall taps).
Products cannot be advertised to claim any health benefits from cannabis.
So What’s Next?
It’s likely we’ll begin seeing cannabis-infused craft beer hitting New York State shelves this year, if it hasn’t already happened—while NYSCC advocates for all legal cooperation, we’re no snitch, either!
This collaboration of craft beer and cannabis will undoubtedly have substantial impacts on businesses and consumers alike. While there’s an existing overlap of craft beer and cannabis consumers, these products will be an opportunity for both industries to expand their reach. Cannabis will reach new consumers by entering an already “socially accepted” market, while craft beer will serve as a gateway for those who are not yet comfortable with cannabis. Conversely, cannabis already has a far more diverse consumer base than craft beer; thus, cannabis can serve as a way for craft beer to become more diverse and inclusive.
Something unique that we may see play out? The emergence of cannabis-infused craft beer will likely be led by “the small guys.” While national and regional brands have the capital to invest, they may also be much slower to act due to federal red tape and consequential distribution challenges. Microbreweries and cannabis growers that already only operate within the state, on the other hand, may have an easier time breaking into the market and will benefit more greatly from the endeavor.
Opportunities for New York State Businesses
The craft beer industry will serve as a gateway for cannabis businesses in New York State. While we can safely predict that out-of-state distribution will remain illegal for some time, the rest of the legislation surrounding cannabis-infused products will be ever changing.
What Steps Can Cannabis Growers Interested in the Craft Beer Sector Take?
First, get educated:
Review the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.
Use state resources and get in touch with the NYS Office of Cannabis Management when you have questions.
Stay up-to-date with us, NYSCC!
Second, think about what collaboration might be right for you. With over 400 craft breweries in the state, team up with one who aligns with your brand and serves your target market. And lastly, have fun with it! Think of all the opportunities for punny beer names—just avoid Bud Light unless you’d like a cease and desist order.