Big Alcohol is pouring billions into the drinkable marijuana market. But is that how anybody wants to get high?
By Amanda Chicago Lewis
Illustrations by Party of One Photography by Silvia Razgova
It’s 2019, and Big Alcohol wants in on legal pot — but only on its own terms. One by one, the largest beer companies in the world have announced their intention to create drinkable marijuana products. So brace yourself for an onslaught of alcohol-free weed beers and weed seltzers and weed fruit punches.
There’s only one problem: no one really wants or likes cannabis beverages. In legal adult-use marijuana markets, infused beverages make up a mere 2 to 3 percent of total sales. But the alcohol industry really and truly believes it can convince us that we want to consume weed the same way we consume alcohol, gulp by gulp. Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter has said drinks could soon make up 20 to 30 percent of cannabis sales. That’s right: he thinks he can increase demand for marijuana beverages by a factor of 10.
Last year, Molson Coors took a controlling stake in a joint venture with a licensed pot producer in Canada called HEXO. Anheuser-Busch InBev put $50 million toward a similar joint venture with the British Columbia-based Tilray. Heineken-owned Lagunitas already sells a hop-flavored, pot-infused sparkling water at California marijuana dispensaries, in partnership with Sonoma’s CannaCraft. And Constellation Brands, which includes Corona and Modelo, threw down nearly $4 billion — the biggest investment in the history of weed — on a 38 percent stake in the largest Canadian marijuana producer, Canopy Growth.BEING HIGH DOESN’T FEEL THE SAME AS BEING DRUNK
Full disclosure: I’ve always found drinks to be the worst kind of marijuana edible. Even if you find one that doesn’t taste like bong water, the absent-minded ease of sipping almost guarantees you’ll have too much, and the delayed intensity that’s left so many people wary of edible weed means that it could hit you all at once, two hours later. Unless, of course, it’s a low-dose product, and then you might have too little. I’ve been smoking about a joint a night for the past decade or so, and I need 25–30 milligrams of THC to get high. Most pot drinks are aimed either at serious, all-day stoners, with 100 milligrams of THC per bottle, or at entry-level lightweights, with 2.5 milligrams of THC per bottle. I love weed, but I don’t want to stop myself after a third of an iced tea, and I don’t want to have to down 10 iced teas. Marijuana tolerance varies far more than alcohol tolerance, and that makes it much harder to create shareable, standardized products.
As it exists now, the whole cannabis beverage category is a mess. Even if you can get the dosage and the taste and the onset timing correct, being high doesn’t feel the same as being drunk. Why should we try to force marijuana to mimic the experience of alcohol? Are the makers of Blue Moon and Stella Artois hoping that, 10 years from now, bars and ball games will offer both a weed beer and regular beer?
I tried to push past the sunny investor forecasts and check it all out for myself: the mega-companies in Canada burning up shareholder cash; the shrewd entrepreneurs in California who are still getting used to following laws; and the thriving illicit market that offers lower quality for cheap, undercutting the entire legalization endeavor from Toronto to Detroit to Los Angeles. With the goal of doing some crucial investigative weed-beverage journalism, I tasted nasty concoctions, spent 12 hours pot party-hopping at Coachella, messed up a friend’s romantic rendezvous by getting her too stoned, ventured to an isolated factory town in Canada, and got myself super high on marijuana wine on a night that ended with a $62 snack shopping spree.“HOW MANY DIFFERENT WAYS DO WE HAVE TO GET HIGH? IT’S A LITTLE STUPID.”
I discovered the reality is that Big Beer is going after pot drinks because its own industry has been in slow, steady decline for two decades. First, cocktails and wine grew more accessible, chipping away at beer’s market share. Then, craft breweries led a revolution against domestic lager juggernauts like Budweiser and Miller Lite. Now, with Americans increasingly concerned about the negative health implications of drinking and legalized cannabis poised to take a huge bite out of the recreational intoxication consumer spending pie, giant beer companies are trying to maintain their lucrative dominance over how we turn up and wind down.
“If you’re a beverage company and you know how to make liquid and put it in cans and make it taste good, whether it’s an electrolyte beer or a THC beer, it’s a natural extension of your expertise,” says Brandy Rand, chief operating officer for the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analytics, an alcohol industry market research firm. Rand told me she thinks the expansion into marijuana-infused beverages makes perfect sense for alcohol companies. “This is a natural progression into looking at people who are concerned about wellness, who maybe want the occasion and experience of something that looks, tastes, and feels like a beverage alcohol product but has no calories, no hangover.”
But of course Rand feels that way. She works for a company that sells information and projections to alcohol conglomerates who are eager for a solution to the challenges posed by legal cannabis. Analysts on the weed side aren’t quite so optimistic about pot drinks. “I think it’s going to be a novelty that wears off pretty quickly,” says Matt Karnes, founder of the cannabis financial firm GreenWave Advisors. “How many different ways do we have to get high? It’s a little stupid.”
This is what’s so wild about marijuana legalization. Everything is still up in the air, and things are moving fast. We can’t even predict all of the industries legal pot will disrupt or fundamentally alter. Sleep aids? Painkillers? Tourism? Data from the first states to allow recreational use show that more people are willing to give the drug a try once it’s legal. The tantalizing and possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to entice and convert more people into cannabis consumers has businesses hustling to innovate neophyte-friendly offerings — hence the eight-figure investments in building a better weed drink. “Beverages should have a meaningful opportunity, if you can fix the product,” says Vivien Azer, the lead cannabis analyst at the investment bank Cowen.MAYBE CANNABIS DRINKS REALLY ARE GOING TO BE THE NEXT KOMBUCHA, AND NOT THE NEXT NEW COKE
But as with other vice industries like casinos or tobacco, the majority of weed sales remain concentrated among the heaviest users, creating a conundrum for anyone looking to sell marijuana beverages: develop a high-dose product for the market you have, or develop a low-dose product for the market you want? Much of the money aimed at the speculative, mainstream market is going to Canada where marijuana-infused beverages and other edibles will become available this December, giving corporate beer companies a chance to experiment in the Great White North before debuting anything on a global stage.
I’ll admit that I’m part of the existing cannabis market, and so I don’t totally understand what might motivate the people who are only now considering trying weed for the first time or coming back to it after some years away. Perhaps people will find drinking THC to be more clean, appealing, and healthy than vaping oil or smoking pot. Pipes can be gross. Bongs can be intimidating. So with as open a mind as possible, I set off this spring to see what’s out there and what’s coming, in a bid to determine whether pot drinks could be the future of inebriation.
Maybe cannabis drinks really are going to be the next kombucha, and not the next New Coke. I’m willing to believe that a slew of corporations can figure out what we want before we do. I’m willing to try a weed beverage that tastes and feels better than the crap I’ve had after six years as a marijuana industry reporter and a decade living in Los Angeles. I’m just also cognizant of the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on dumber ideas before.
The oldest operating marijuana beverage brand in the country is also, for now, the best-selling one. It’s called the Cannabis Quencher, a line of juices and lemonades in flavors like hibiscus and strawberry that have been sold in California for the past eight years by the company VCC Brands. I’ve always hated Cannabis Quenchers, which taste too sweet and usually contain a whopping 100mg of THC. But I decided that in order to understand where pot drinks are going, I need to spend some time with someone who understands where they’ve been.
When I call up VCC Brands founder Kenny Morrison, this intention morphs into a plan to drive his Subaru out to the desert and cruise through Southern California’s greatest annual drug-fueled party scene: Coachella. After all, if there’s one place on Earth that can predict which intoxicants are going to be cool in the coming years, it’s Indio in mid-April when the youth of the world gather to pose and preen and get fucked up.
At 44, Morrison embodies a very Hollywood idea of a white man in Los Angeles: surfer, actor, weed mogul. (As a child, he starred in The NeverEnding Storysequel.) He is tan year-round, with a five o’clock shadow and a confident, disarming charm. As we drive, he often changes lanes without signaling.
From 2008 to 2018, Morrison operated his commercial cannabis kitchen between 4PM and 1AM because it was illicit and he assumed food inspectors didn’t work after hours. Over the years, he’s put pot into everything from bagel bites to biscotti, caramels to coconut water. When he first began looking into beverages in 2010, he hired a food scientist who made him swear to keep his involvement a secret.
“We were like, ‘Where should we start? Iced tea? Lemonade?’” Morrison recalls. “He was like, ‘Here’s the difference: If lemonade goes bad, it’ll give someone a stomachache. Maybe they’ll throw up. But if you do an iced tea wrong, that will kill your customer,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s start with lemonade!’”
Even though marijuana is technically not allowed on Coachella’s grounds, the surrounding desert is a hot spot for industrial cannabis production. This year, there were weed-sponsored shindigs aplenty. During a single Friday, we managed to see the full range of Golden State pot culture: the Johnny-come-latelies with tons of money, the ex-criminals scrambling to scale up, and the people operating on the edges of what is legal.
Morrison belongs to the second group. After securing $5–15 million from an investor this spring, he is now gunning to compete with Molson Coors and InBev.
“Fuck them and their insights,” Morrison says. “Some insights can be bought, but many insights come with experience.”
We pull off the freeway in an exurban wasteland of pavement, dust, and fast food. Our first stop is a marijuana dispensary where a new low-dose weed beer called Two Roots is targeting festivalgoers with THC-free samples from a bicycle-operated kegerator. Two Roots has supposedly solved the biggest problem with existing pot drinks: the fact that it takes so long to get high.
“Imagine if you had to wait an hour and a half to feel the impact of scotch,” says Charlie Bachtell, the CEO of Cresco Labs, which partners with Two Roots in Nevada. Apparently, marijuana edibles feel more intense than smoking because your liver metabolizes the THC differently, converting it into a stronger, more psychedelic form. The secret to Two Roots is water-soluble THC, which skips your liver, producing a cannabis libation that hits quickly and lightly and doesn’t linger in your system.
Outside the desert pot shop, Two Roots’ parent company’s founder, Kevin Love (not the NBA player, just a guy from New Jersey with vocal fry), offers a paper cup of lager to a woman with pink hair.
“I’m good, actually,” she says.
“Wow, really?” he responds.
Love started Two Roots’ parent company after stints at JPMorgan and the Royal Bank of Canada. He raised $19 million from friends and family.
Three gruff-looking biker types approach. “This is not our typical demo,” Love says under his breath, but the guys each take a sample. “That’s not bad,” one says. When they turn to go, Love says, “We’re lucky we didn’t get roughed up!” He is similarly disapproving when a black man with gold front teeth walks up, the last inch of a blunt hanging out of his mouth.
Just as I’m starting to wonder who will both want to try Two Roots and be found worthy by Love, his ideal customer arrives: a middle-aged white woman with red glasses. Her husband brews. “I can’t even imagine a beer with THC,” she says. “It sounds like the perfect drink!”
As we pull away, Morrison scoffs. He knows about water-soluble THC, too. “It’s not that hard,” he says, explaining that the bigger hurdle is finding the right emulsifier. Indeed, at our next event, which is hosted by an old friend of Morrison’s, bartenders are combining bottled cocktail mixers with either alcohol or emulsified CBD. It’s a party for a vape pen company that started out as illegal and is now trying to attract funding. Nestled in a hillside, the mansion they rented for the weekend provides expansive views of the valley, and though not many people have shown yet, all of the elements of a Coachella party startup kit are here: chips, guac, DJ, infinity pool, white furniture, and at least one gold inflatable swan. Women in bikini tops lounge on straw-woven cushions, smoking joints.
“This party is all about brand awareness,” says Olivia Wagner, the event planner, who is stunning and blonde and has some kind of light-catching crystal affixed to her tooth. “We’re having talent coming tomorrow at 2 because that’s when the investors are coming,” she says, name-dropping a few rappers, an actress, and one A-lister who I would be shocked to see here. “Tons of the Vice guys are coming out,” she continues. Okay, that I believe.
As we’re driving away, Morrison seems disoriented.
“When she says ‘lifestyle brand,’ you want to punch her in the face,” he says. “But she was crushing it. Creating good-looking photography, all the stock shit you’re supposed to have. It just feels satirical because of the stark change we’ve seen in the last couple of years.”
And it’s true. Since 2017, Morrison has gone from an outlaw who once had a million dollars seized from his bank accounts to a poster boy for legalization. But when we show up at our final event, an LA Weekly party at a Moroccan-themed hotel, it becomes clear that despite the flood of new laws and new money and new pot shops that look like Apple Stores, the free-for-all energy of an earlier era lives on.“IT SHOULD BE EMULSIFIED. THIS DUDE’S A ROOKIE.”
After some drama over whether we are On The List, we make our way down a stone-tiled pathway, past magenta Bougainvillea and a woman in camo pants, a red bra, and gold hoops who is staring at her phone on an inflatable bird of paradise-print chair. Since late 2017 when a mysterious, marijuana-connected group bought LA Weekly and fired almost the entire staff, the local rag has abandoned journalism in favor of pablum and weed ads. (Disclosure: I wrote for a very different LA Weekly from 2011–2014.) For Coachella, the publication was hosting a raucous pool party and a cannabis competition. Eventually, we find the man in charge: weed writer Jimi Devine, who is wearing a tie-dye shirt and has frizzy hair down to his chest. Devine is quite high, having posted up for the weekend with the rest of the judges to try every single entrant of pot, edible, oil, preroll, drink, and vape pen.
At Devine’s insistence, I had agreed to help judge a few categories, including beverages, so he whisks me into his hotel room where marijuana products cover almost every surface.
“We’re not even going to give you the Marley Natural because it’s so bad,” Devine says. Sure, I think, that sounds fair.
Some of the bud is in plastic baggies, which means it hasn’t been packaged according to state law. Less than one-fifth of the marijuana industry in California is legal. In Los Angeles, only 186 of the city’s estimated 1,700 storefront dispensaries are licensed.
When we get back in the car, Morrison recalls that he had to explain to the LA Weekly representative that the only legal way to obtain Cannabis Quenchers for the judges was at a licensed dispensary.
One hand on the steering wheel, Morrison looks through his competition: a beer, a lemonade, and a pomegranate green tea. He holds the lemonade up to the light, drifting across the yellow double lines.
“See how it sticks to the top?” he says. “It should be emulsified. This dude’s a rookie.”
Later, after I pour this super potent lemonade into a glass to try the tiniest sip, I write on the judge’s form that it looks like milk mixed with urine.
Afew weeks after immersing myself in the thirsty, cannabis-sponsored ragers of Coachella, I head to the opposite end of the legal weed universe where there are millions of dollars in R&D but not much glamour: rural Canada. I’m there to check out the most advanced marijuana drink development that money can buy at the Canopy Growth Corporation. The company’s 70-acre headquarters is about an hour outside of Ottawa in a town called Smiths Falls, where there are no actual waterfalls.
On paper, Canopy is the most valuable legal weed firm in the world, with contracts in every Canadian province and a medical presence in Australia, Germany, Brazil, and more. It trades on the New York Stock Exchange. It recently announced a $3.4 billion plan to acquire the marijuana firm that has former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner on the board. And it’s using the $3.8 billion from the alcohol company Constellation Brands to expandat top speed.
“There’s trees on the lawn now,” says Carly Picket, one of the employees touring me around. “There wasn’t a week ago.”
Before this property was a legal pot behemoth with over 3,000 employees, it was a Hershey’s factory and tourist destination. In that spirit, Canopy often takes investors and media on a cheery, Potemkin-seeming “behind-the-scenes” tour, past busy-looking scientists in safety goggles, and across catwalks that overlook manufacturing space. We suit up in white coats and blue booties and peek into the clone room, the mother plant room, the flowering rooms, the vegetative rooms. We talk about temperature controls, humidity controls, light controls, automated trimmers, human trimmers, this technology, that technology, whatever. It’s weed. Canopy is growing it on an industrial scale, but so are lots of people these days. The company’s yield per plant is less than half of what other cultivators can produce, especially in California.
The Canopy people seem a little unnerved that I’m not impressed and that I’ve seen several large-scale grows like this before. At a certain point, it comes out that the company’s truly massive grows are in another province entirely, in greenhouses, which are much more cost-efficient. Later, over lunch, I ask corporate communications manager Caitlin O’Hara whether Canopy is looking into the lesser-known compounds in the cannabis plant. A lot of pot companies are especially interested in the fatigue-inducing cannabinol (CBN) as a potential alternative to Ambien, but O’Hara says she’s never heard of it. She decides to start asking me questions: specifically, which companies should Canopy be looking to acquire in California?“BEFORE RED BULL, THERE WAS NOTHING LIKE IT. THAT’S WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE.”
In the past few years, California and Canada have emerged as the global pot economy’s two gravitational poles, eyeing each other from across the border with a certain degree of mistrust and resentment. While California has the customers and the expertise, Canada has the backing of a major government and therefore the big money. After Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prioritized legalization in 2015, Canadian financial services picked up a huge advantage in the cannabis space. So even though the entire Canadian marijuana market is worth less than the Los Angeles market, all of the serious weed investors are going to Canada or through Canada. In the five years since the Canadian Securities Exchange began allowing marijuana firms, its combined market cap has gone from $5 billion to over $30 billion — a Green Rush frenzy.
“It’s very hard to determine if these companies are fairly valued,” explains Mitch Baruchowitz, the managing partner of cannabis investment firm Merida. Until last year, there were only about 30 companies licensed to both sell and grow pot in Canada, so when corporations like Altria (formerly Philip Morris) and Constellation went looking for legal partners, there weren’t that many choices. The situation is often described as a bubble, and I’m wondering whether Canopy can live up to the hype.
Because edibles aren’t legal yet in Canada, Canopy won’t let me try its pot beverages, which are supposed to hit within 15–20 minutes and will likely include an iced tea, a kombucha, a lemonade, and a sparkling water that tastes like pine needles.
“The goal is to create a category,” says VP of communications Jordan Sinclair. “Before Red Bull, there was nothing like it. That’s what this looks like. It fills a new need.”
Nothing about Canopy’s new weed drinks is quite final, though. More regulations are coming, so the company is putting everything together in a preliminary way — all without knowing what consumers will actually like.
“You are making decisions, expensive decisions, without the full details, and so there’s a lot of pivots,” says Mark Zekulin, one of the company’s two CEOs.“IT’S REALLY JUST AN EMPTY BOX.”
Still, production forges forward. Last November, shortly after Canopy announced the multibillion-dollar investment from Constellation, the company began work on a bottling factory down the street from the grow rooms and the visitor’s center. On our way there, O’Hara brings me to the company’s regional distribution center, where Josh Shaver, the logistics guy in charge, tells me, “We consider this the world’s largest cannabis warehouse!”
“But… is it?” I ask. “The largest?”
They have no idea.
Finally, we reach the bottling factory, which remains under construction. We don steel toe boots, orange hazard vests, safety glasses, and hard hats before we can get near the building. It’s a huge structure, about 120,000 square feet. Outside, Mack cement mixers beep past John Deere bulldozers. We duck in a cutout where a door might go and see that the inside is filled with small rocks. O’Hara has never been to this building, and she seems thrilled to be checking it out.
“So is this the office?” she asks. It is, but there are not yet walls or floors or anything resembling an office, really. “Wow, this is incredible,” she continues, as we walk into another part of the barren, capacious structure. I have to give her credit for keeping up this level of awe.
“The impressive thing is the speed at which PCL is getting this all done,” says Kevin Garnett (again, not the NBA player, just the crusty project manager). PCL is the construction firm, and they are working almost twice as fast as normal.
We walk around the vacant space for a few minutes in near silence. There’s a guy wielding a blowtorch in the corner, and a few men are scattered on scissor lifts throughout, working on the ceiling. But mostly, it feels quiet and immense and expensive, like a cathedral. Except instead of frescoes, I realize, there would soon be rows and rows of monumental contraptions shuttling flavored liquid weed in elegant glass bottles to and fro. I tried to imagine a world where I meet my friends for a drink on a Friday at that Mexican place I like, and while they sip mezcal, I slowly get stoned in the sunshine on some pine needle-flavored seltzer, manufactured right here in this room and shipped legally to Los Angeles. For now, though, it was all just a promise, a projection of what some future reality could hold.
“It’s really just an empty box,” Garnett says, and I nod because he’s correct.
Two months after I visit, Canopy’s board votes to oust one of its two CEOs, reportedly because the company was spending far more money than it took in.
At long last, a few days before the pot holiday 4/20, I have the opportunity to get soused on some weed wine in Napa, California. A tenacious cannabis PR woman, Cynthia Salarizadeh, had teamed up with wine industry veteran Tracey Mason to create House of Saka, a marijuana-infused, alcohol-removed rosé made with water-soluble THC. So of course they are throwing a 75-person dinner at a Victorian ranch in wine country to celebrate.
The ranch is in the middle of nowhere, and in the car on the way over, Salarizadeh is freaking out. Apparently, CNBC was supposed to send a camera crew, but two days ago, the cable network canceled on her.
“In all my years of PR, I’ve never seen something so unprofessional,” she fumes. “We dropped 40 Gs on this thing!”
Now, she’s nervous about everything. She’s worried the wine will look too cloudy because it’s natural and unfiltered. She’s worried it will taste like pot. She’s worried no one is going to show up. She’s worried her eyebrows look weird.
We get there, and it’s beautiful, the sunlight streaming across the stained glass of the converted dairy barn. Each glass of Saka contains about 5 milligrams of THC, so when I get my first drink from the bar, I tell myself I can have five or six over the course of the night. “It doesn’t taste bad!” I say, after my first sip. Another woman says she can taste the weed, but I can’t at all. A guy comes by with scallops on a cracker, and, all at once, it’s cocktail hour and people start to arrive.
I run into the slippery and ubiquitous political consultant Sean Donahoe, with his shaggy hair and his rectangular glasses, and he tells me he really enjoys getting stoned by drinking. “Beverages have a bubbly high,” he says. “It’s like drinking champagne with a codeine kicker.” When I express some skepticism that the trend will ever catch on, he reminds me that there are non-smoking, edible-only cannabis social spaces opening in West Hollywood sometime in the next year: “That’s made for beverages!”
When I’m two glasses in, Salarizadeh introduces me to Ned Fussell, one of the founders of the Sonoma-based cannabis company CannaCraft, the company that partnered with Lagunitas on a hop-flavored, marijuana-infused sparkling water called HiFi Hops. Fussell is a scrappy lifelong pot grower from Worcester, Massachusetts. In the past decade, he and his co-founder have built CannaCraft into a major force in the California market, with 250 employees and a suite of successful brands. Salarizadeh was in talks to distribute Saka through CannaCraft.
Soon, it’s time for dinner, and as we take our seats under the chandeliers and exposed beams in a room that looks like a spiffed-up frontier saloon, I ask Fussell to level with me: is anyone really buying HiFi Hops? I mean, does anyone actually want a sparkling water that tastes like beer and gets you high?
“It’s the number one carbonated weed beverage in California!” he says cheekily. (There are hardly any carbonated weed beverages at California dispensaries.)
Jeff Henderson, the HiFi Hops brand manager, sits down next to us. “We sold out in the two dispensaries we’re in, in San Francisco,” he says.
“Twelve bottles!” Fussell jokes.
It’s around this point that I realize I’m having a good time. I feel nicely buzzed and somewhat reassured that the people behind a product I’d found ridiculous also weren’t taking it too seriously. We’re eating a colorful lettuce salad with marigold flowers, and shaved watermelon radishes, when Karen Hamilton, Lagunitas’ director of community relations, walks up, in a horizontal-striped cotton maxi-dress, with a glass of Saka in one hand and a glass of red in the other.
“Double-fisting?” I ask.
“Well, I wanted to try this,” — the weed wine, she means — “but I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the flavor, so I got a back-up.” She likes the way it tastes, though. “It has a tartness I like, like a lemon, or a Marlborough sauvignon blanc.”
Not long after this, I realize I’ve lost track of how many glasses I’ve had and that I’ve missed the lemon ricotta ravioli entirely. I worry I’m about to get too stoned, but the vibes are good, so I go with it. I grab some of the braised pork shoulder before it gets cold because the roasted halibut already is. At Fussell’s urging, I try a bottle of HiFi Hops, or maybe two. Then I see Yvonne DeLaRosa Green and her husband Sam, the effervescent hippie owners of a cannabis shop in Malibu. Green is wearing a drapey pink pearl-studded shawl, and she tells me they don’t stock beverages.
“We had them before. What happened?” she asks her husband.
“It wasn’t selling as well,” he explains.
“I think the milligrams were too high,” she says, but she wants to start carrying Saka.
Someone makes an announcement about a dessert bar, and I find Donahoe again, nursing a regular beer.
“Is this what it’s going to be like all summer?” he asks wistfully. “High-end events?” I can’t tell if he’s somehow sad about how fancy this party is or just experiencing the same kind of whiplash that had left Morrison so unsettled.“IT TASTES LIKE SOMEONE PUT HOPS IN NATTY LIGHT, AND I’D RATHER BE DRINKING NATTY LIGHT.”
Suddenly, it’s 9:25PM, and Salarizadeh’s shoes are off. She looks much more relaxed than she did on the way over here. Nearby, an older couple is getting freaky on the dance floor.
I start talking to a guy in a tweedy jacket who owns a company that removes the alcohol from wine and beer and liquor — a key factor in all this, since every place with legal weed does not allow you to mix cannabis and alcohol in the same product. He tells me he had quit using marijuana entirely, but beverages had brought him back.
“These are light, but it comes on fast, enough to feel it,” he says. In this moment, I know exactly what he’s talking about: you feel the acceleration, most, when you’re getting intoxicated, so the ramp-up has to be quick but not too steep. Classic pot drinks like the Cannabis Quencher come on too strong, and too fast, long after the instinct to get high has dissipated. But this — this is great. The profound fog that I’d been bracing for had never come on. My night of drinking weed was… actually really enjoyable.
Of course, one good night does not an industry make. And remember: I’m someone who already likes the feeling of being stoned.
On another night, I bring a four-pack of that low-dose Two Roots product to a dinner party of cannabis-curious women, and it doesn’t go well. As one friend tries to pop the child-proof tab, the weed beer squirts in her face. Another tries to pour hers into a glass and ends up needing to crush the can to get all of the liquid out. “This is a disaster,” she observes, then takes a sip. “It tastes like someone put hops in Natty Light,” she says, “and I’d rather be drinking Natty Light.”
Instead of hitting within 15 minutes and wearing off within an hour and a half, as promised, the Two Roots leaves one of my friends intensely high for over four hours. The date she goes on later that evening, with a hot guy from out of town, does not go well.
“It wasn’t at all unpleasant,” she texts later, as I apologize for ruining her night. “I can imagine if I was home alone being like, ‘I’ll drink that and go to bed.’ But I wouldn’t do it socially for the same reason I don’t smoke weed socially. It’s just the wrong mix.”
I realize she’s right. With alcohol, everything speeds up, and the distance between yourself and other people seems to shrink. With marijuana, the world slows down, and a light-hearted haze creeps over you, defamiliarizing reality. The experiences are not interchangeable. The people who can’t handle being stoned in public are not going to suddenly learn how. And until they do, the mainstream popularity of pot drinks is going to remain, well, a pipe dream.
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