High hopes, not much dope in marijuana beer and gin

It’s now okay to smoke cannabis, or at least it’s legal as long as you don’t buy your supply. But what about drinking it?

Poison City Brewing, based in Durban, launched Durban Poison, a cannabis lager on September 17 last year, the day before the Constitutional Court legalised the personal use of cannabis. The suppliers say it is a hit, and at least one million bottles were sold between October and December last year.

Don’t think, though, that you’ll get a double high from cannabis lager. It contains hemp, which is a species of cannabis. Within this genus there are plants, such as hemp, that produce high levels of cannabidiols (CBD) but low levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“So it will not get you high but it will make you happy and it’s enjoyable,” says Poison City Brewing co-owner Graeme Bird.

Poison City Brewing decided to brew beer with hemp, he says, not only because they love cannabis but also because of the strong similarities between the main ingredient used to make beer, hops, and cannabis.

“Hops are essential in beer, but hops and cannabis are part of a broader plant group called Cannabaceae, so one of the main beer ingredients is essentially a plant with incredible similarities to cannabis. Because the plants are alike, cannabis beer can actually match the taste you get with hops,” Bird says.

The beer is available countrywide, including in some supermarket chains, he says.

In Johannesburg, the Mad Giant brewery in Newtown also offers a cannabis product, in this case an ale.

Not all cannabis-infused drinks find it easy to reach the market. Hemp is infused in gin by Cape Town-based Monks Gin called Mary Jane gin. It is being targeted at the export market but the company is waiting for laws to change before making it available locally. Unlike beer, which can include hemp and be sold to the public, spirits and wine producers have to submit their labelling and ingredients to the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

It is illegal to sell cannabis or have spirits and wines labelled using words related to cannabis.

“According to the law it is still not legal to ingest [cannabis],” says Di Davis, a partner and the head of marketing at Monks Gin.

“There are many hemp food products on the shelves, which range from hemp pesto to cooking oil to energy bars and raw hemp seeds, none of which have to be passed by the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, whereas wine and spirits do,” she says.

Davis says legalising hemp will be an enormous economic benefit “because we have the perfect climate and all sorts of different strains of weed which grow brilliantly”.

Poison City Brewing and Monk Gin source their hemp from Canada and Switzerland respectively.

The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries had not replied to questions at the time of going to press.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business journalist at the Mail & Guardian

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

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