Kansas Finally Admits It's Okay to Put Hemp in Beer

It had been the only state to ban non-THC, non-CBD beer from being sold.


Roberto E. Rosales/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Alcohol regulators in Kansas have finally admitted what everyone else already knew: just because a beer is brewed with hemp, doesn't mean it will get you high.

Let's back up. In April, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing Company introduced a hemp-infused brew called The Hemperor HPA—which stands for "hemp pale ale," because they really want you to know it was made with hemp. The beer does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), two psychoactive compounds found in marijuana, because it is brewed with unshelled hemp seeds; THC and CBD, meanwhile, are found in the stalks, leaves, and flowers of the cannabis plant. In addition to the hemp seeds, New Belgium uses a mixture of hops and non-cannabis florals to simulate the pungent aroma and flavor commonly associated with weed.

Because the beer doesn't actually contain any THC or CBD, New Belgium's beer can be sold anywhere other beers are—unlike the CBD-containing beers and cocktails that are starting to enter the market in places where marijuana has been legalized.

Anywhere, that was, except for Kansas. The state's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agency banned The Hemperor from Kansas liquor stores and bars soon after it was introduced, on the grounds that hemp was an illegal food additive. It took more than six months, but after a secondary review of the state's industrial hemp statutes, the Kansas ABC reversed its earlier decision and will now allow the beer to be sold in the state.

The change comes after Kansas state lawmakers in April approved a bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp and approving research into the commercial viability of the crop. While that bill did not directly affect New Belgium's beer or the state ABC, the general loosening of the state's hemp laws may have nudged the regulators towards accepting The Hemperor.

"It could also be that Kansas, like many other states in our glorious union, finally got a whiff of how versatile and sustainable of a crop industrial hemp can be, and how it could play a much bigger role in our economy," said Jesse Claeys, a spokesman for New Belgium Brewery, in a statement.

As I wrote in a July feature for Reason, New Belgium has positioned The Hemperor to be more than just a novelty. The beer has become something of a political statement too, since New Belgium has partnered with Willie Nelson's GCH Inc. and Vote Hemp to create the American Hemp Campaign. For every barrel of The Hemperor sold, the brewery donates $1 to the advocacy group's efforts to get industrial hemp legalized at the federal level.

Meanwhile, other cannabis-infused brews continue to face legal battles. Beers made with CBD are likely to become more common thanks to increased state-level legalization. Brews made with CBD are already on the market in Colorado, California, Oregon, Vermont, and elsewhere. Even the hip-hop duo Run The Jewels, which has partnered with a series of six breweries around the world to produce beers named after some of the group's songs, is planning to release a CBD-infused pilsner with a German brewery.

But there will continue to be issues with individual states and perhaps at the federal level. Even though recreational marijuana became legal in Massachusetts on July 1 of this year, for example, the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has prohibited CBD-infused beers made by Vermont-based Long Trail Brewing from being sold in Massachusetts.

Federalism can be messy. Still, raise a glass to the regulators in Kansas who finally got this one right.