The Cannabis Act prohibits the sale of products that combine alcohol and cannabis, but doesn’t prevent the hospitality industry from looking for creative workarounds.
Christine Sismondo Special to the Star
Weed-tinis, anyone? Or, perhaps you're in the mood for a bud-tail?
Well, this is going to have to wait awhile, it seems. Despite rampant speculation that the next big cocktail trend will be weed infusions, cannabis cocktails aren't coming to a bar near you any time soon. The short answer as to why is simple. The Cannabis Act, which makes the drug legal on Oct. 17 specifically prohibits the sale of products that combine the newly legalized weed with alcohol. Same for nicotine and caffeine, incidentally.
That isn't stopping the hospitality industry from looking for creative workarounds, however, including the launch of products and events designed to get consumers "interested" in the possibility of mixing cannabis and alcohol. This past year saw several events in Toronto that broached this territory, including a cannabis expo that showcased weed-inspired cocktails and a five-course dinner that paired dishes with cannabis terpenes — essential oils that contain the aroma of specific weed strains. Since cannabis was still illegal at the time, guests didn't consume any cannabis, they just smelled the terpenes from vials that were passed around. After the legislation takes effect, events such as these will inevitably become more hands-on, offering people a chance to sample actual cannabis — as in the get-you-high kind, with all the active ingredients.
"I think what you're going to see, as of Oct. 17, is an explosion of cannabis events, all of which will be private because you can't sell cannabis unauthorized," says Lisa Campbell, a cannabis advocate who is expanding her family's wine agency, Lifford, to include a "cannabis solutions" branch. "Say you're a bartender and you get hired for a wedding and the clients want a cannabis bar. As long as none of the guests are buying the cannabis from the bar, and you obtained the cannabis legally, and you're within your sharing limits, it should be legal." (Canadians will be legally allowed to share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults after Oct. 17.)
In preparation for a potentially weed-infused future, some stakeholders are launching weed education programs for hospitality industry professionals. Both George Brown College and the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers are working on developing courses that could, one day, lead to certifications for servers and sommeliers that specialize in cannabis. The programs would cover two main areas — the flavour profiles associated with different strains and promoting knowledge about responsible cannabis use, especially when it's mixed or paired with alcohol. Even though we're a long way from legal weed-tinis in bars, there's nothing stopping people from experimenting with cannabis cocktails at home.
"You know, I've seen people pass out at bars because they stepped out back for a joint and then came back in and it hit them like a ton of bricks," says Christopher Wilton, a Peterborough, Ont.-based sommelier and educator who worked on that aforementioned five-course, terpene-pairing dinner this summer.
"We know that alcohol is a depressant and some of the cannabis strains can also act as depressants, so it's not really something that I would recommend anyone try at home or, you know, to at least try very carefully. There's a lot to be said for microdosing."
(Microdosing is the practice of administering tiny amounts of cannabis — a practice that many anticipate will be the preferred method of wading in for new cannabis users, with or without alcohol.)
There will be people who push the envelope, however. One cannabis advocate told us that the "green dragon" — a weed-infused cocktail — was available off-menu to people in the know who asked discreetly at a couple of Toronto bars several years ago, noting that they contained cannabinoids and could get you "messed up." There are also recipes for similar "green dragon" drinks, as well as other cannabis cocktails online and in at least one popular book designed for home enthusiasts, but critics have charged that the recommended doses in some recipes are way out of line, bordering on dangerous.
That's part of the rationale for delaying the introduction of legal "edibles" (cannabis-infused food) and what might be called "drinkables" (non-alcoholic cannabis beverages), which are expected to roll out in a later stage of the legalization of cannabis — likely in the summer of 2019. Big wine, liquor and beer companies including Constellation Brands, Diageo and Molson-Coors are banking on it, since they're already diversifying their portfolios and investing in cannabis facilities. Lifford, a far smaller company than the others mentioned, is researching possibilities for producing and representing artisanal beverages made from "craft cannabis" products, anticipating a niche demand for options that aren't made by mega-brands.
"How cool would it be to have a cannabis-infused kombucha?" says Campbell. "Or something like a sparkling hop water, except it would be made by extracting cannabis oil instead of hops and combining it with sparkling water, kind of like a cannabis version of a La Croix."
While we wait for that, the most gentle introduction to the brave new world of cannabis cocktails is actually already here in the form of Mary Jane's Premium Hemp Gin — a product that's been available through the LCBO's e-commerce program for nearly two years. Made in British Columbia, this outlier is a hemp-infused gin, containing no THC or CBD (the active ingredients in cannabis that make people high). Like many of the other lifestyle products and events, it's really about introducing people to the flavour. And it may soon come in vodka form, too, since, the LCBO is considering selling Humboldt's Finest Vodka, an award-winning, hemp seed-infused spirit from California's Humboldt County —an area famous for its high-quality craft cannabis. And, even if the LCBO passes on Humboldt's Finest, plans are being made to bring it into Ontario through Eurovintage, a private agent who will be able to sell it by the case.
Possibly even in time for all the city's bud-tenders and home weed-cocktail enthusiasts to celebrate the events of Oct. 17. But, given that anything available through the LCBO or bars will be THC-free, we're definitely talking baby steps and half measures.
But, given the risks involved and the learning curve we're all going to have when it comes to mixing up weed-tinis, that's probably just as well.
Toronto-based Christine Sismondo writes about spirits.