Not coming soon to a tap handle near you: beerijuana.
While the sale of recreational marijuana became legal in California on Jan. 1, weed is still illegal under federal law. That’s a key distinction for brewers, as beer ingredients are regulated by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
“All breweries need a federal permit to manufacture alcohol,” said Candace Moon, a San Diego lawyer who represents craft breweries. Pot-infused beer “is not going to be legal until it’s legal federally.”
For decades, though, brewers have worked within the law to develop beers that mimic marijuana’s aromas and flavors. Pizza Port’s Chronic Ale, for instance, was originally brewed with toasted hemp seeds, hemp being a member of the cannabis family.
Hops, the vine-grown flowers that add aroma and flavor to beer, contain terpenes — a chemical compound — identical to those found in marijuana. Thorn Street’s O.G. HighPA took advantage of that fact.
“We used some of the terpenes found in cannabis,” said Thomas Kiely, Thorn Street’s director of sales and marketing. “There was nothing psychoactive or medicinal about them. It pretty much mimicked the flavor, but with none of the ‘fun stuff.’”
Since terpenes occupy a spot on the current list of federally-approved beer ingredients, there already exists a stash of marijuana-like beers — shall we call these brews “bud light”? These include Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA, Humboldt Hemp Ale and Dank & Sticky IPA.
That last beer? It’s part of a Port Brewing series dubbed The Hop Concept (THC).
Judging by the questions Moon’s been fielding lately, though, some expect a thirst for honest-to-ganja blunt beer.
PACIFIC: Can a marijuana company buy beer and then infuse it with pot?
CANDACE MOON: You can’t do that.
Can breweries operate a marijuana dispensary on the side?
A beer manufacturer cannot be a marijuana manufacturer, or vice versa.
Can breweries host a beer-and-marijuana pairing event?
On the manufacturer’s premises it won’t be allowed. I do think on a third party’s premises you could do it.
It seems in this budding relationship, there are going to be more questions than answers. “I think there’s going to be a lot of trial and error,” Moon said.