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New California Law Bans Bars, Liquor Stores from Selling Marijuana-Infused Drinks

Thanks to a weird loophole, CBD-infused cocktails might remain legal anyway.

ProvinceBrands/Splash / SplashNews/NewscomProvinceBrands/Splash / SplashNews/NewscomOne surefire way to know that cannabis-infused booze is growing in popularity: Governments are starting to regulate it.

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting bars and liquor stores in the state from selling cannabis products that are also alcoholic beverages, including "an infusion of cannabis or cannabinoids derived from industrial hemp into an alcoholic beverage." The bill had sailed through the state legislature, passing the state Assembly with unanimous support and getting a 34–3 vote in the state Senate.

The bill strikes a blow against the innovative pot cocktails that had been springing up in California, where marijuana has been legal for recreational uses since January 1. In April, L.A. Weekly profiled several Los Angeles–area bars where mixologists were experimenting with using cannabidiol (CBD) oil in drinks. Though CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component present in marijuana, it has a calming effect and adds a new twist to traditional cocktails.

Those concoctions were ruled illegal by the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in July. The agency issued new rules banning the sale of alcoholic beverages made with cannabis or cannabis-derived oils, and the bill signed by Brown codifies those existing rules.

The bill was backed by a predictable mix of law enforcement and public health groups, but it faced no significant opposition. The County Health Executives Association of California, which submitted comments to the state Senate about the bill, warned that "combining the relatively unknown effects of cannabis with the known sedative effects of alcohol may have devastatingly unpredictable and harmful impacts on Californians."

California's status as the largest market for legal marijuana means that what happens there will likely send a signal to other states that either have or are considering legal weed. The new law will further entrench the separation of the two products that's already implicit, if not explicit, in state laws—marijuana dispensaries are not licensed to sell alcohol, and bars or liquor stores are not licensed to sell pot.

That's likely to limit experimentation with CBD cocktails and with marijuana-infused beers. As I wrote in a July feature, brewers are increasingly interested in cannabis-derived products for a variety of reasons. Hemp-flavored beers or brews made with hemp seeds can be found at breweries in Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon, and beyond. 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 the German brewery BRLO.

Keith Villa, the man who originally created Blue Moon beer, is now producing a line of THC-infused beers. His beer gets around some of these regulatory hurdles because it is non-alcoholic—it will taste like beer, but you'll have to buy it at a pot shop. Similarly, the California-based Lagunitas Brewing Company has recently launched a series of THC-infused seltzer waters made with hops.

Thanks to a legal loophole, California's nascent hemp cocktails might remain legal even under the new law, as long as they do not contain CBD or THC.

A state Senate analysis of the bill points out that CBD can be derived from industrial hemp—which, despite being grown as cannabis, is actually not classified as a "cannabis" in state law. Although they are often used interchangeably, the terms cannabis, hemp, and marijuana have important biological and legal distinctions. The former term describes the whole plant; there are several different species, but all come from the Cannabis genus. Hemp usually refers to the stalks and stems of the plant, which contain CBD oil and are minimally psychoactive. Marijuana is derived from the plant's leaves and flowers or buds, where higher concentrations of THC are found. The seeds are a bit of a grey area, with federal law classifying them as hemp if they are sterilized, as marijuana if not. Marijuana is completely illegal on the federal level, while hemp can be legally imported, though there are strict limits on growing it.

As it happens, Brown also signed a bill last week that legalizes industrial hemp production in the state—a move that was praised as a "major victory" by Vote Hemp, a group pushing for legalization of industrial hemp at the state and federal levels. The bill clarifies that legal hemp includes extracts and derivatives from non-psychoactive parts of the cannabis plant, and it allows California farmers to grow hemp as well as process hemp seed, oils, and other extracts.

"It is unclear whether these [cocktails additives] are cannabis- or hemp-derived," the Senate analysts wrote in their assessment of the marijuana-alcohol bill, "but policymakers may wish to reconsider whether this broad exemption for all industrial hemp is justified."

As always in California, expect more regulations ahead.

This post was corrected to clarify that non-CBD, hemp cocktails may remain legal under California law.

Photo Credit: ProvinceBrands/Splash / SplashNews/Newscom

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  • Don't look at me!||

    Just how many laws and regulations are there in California?

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    Just the one: "What you want to do is forbidden!" It just has millions of sub-clauses.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I was going to say "All of them, and more on the way!"

    Which may just be the same thing.

  • markm23||

    Whatever is not compulsory is forbidden. And some of the compulsory actions are also forbidden.

  • DiegoF||

    Who the fuck cares about lame-ass CBD? I ain't even a pothead and I'm pissed off. Of course Cali will find a way to nanny weed until it ain't even fun anymore. I'm getting so sick of delusional Californians using legal weed as a trump card to those who cast their state as personally authoritarian. They'll soon lose that ability, for better and for worse.

    The fact that there was absolutely no one standing up for the legality of this product, whose opponents could barely put together a semblance of an argument for why it should be banned, shows how deep our political culture is infused with a default culture of government micromanagement of our decisions, rather than the default sense of personal liberty we imagine to characterize our country among those of the world. Until we do damage to that mentality at its root, we will continue to lose the long war regardless of how many "socially liberal and economically conservative" political identification polls the libertarian Pollyannas can produce. If your idea of "classical liberalism" is Mike Bloomberg than the future does indeed look bright for you.

  • M.L.||

    Do the "libertarians" here think that the bars should be able to sell meth too?

  • Echospinner||

    What do "you" think about that?

  • Sir Chips Alot||

    Yes. What does you doing meth have to do with me?

  • Hank Phillips||

    I am not vegetarian but everyone who is makes meat cheaper. People who like Bolivian plant leaf products know that relegalizing benzedrine will make their preference cheaper. Coffee is sure to become more affordable with every stimulant legalized, and stimulants, unlike narcotics and barbiturates, do not cause physical addiction with withdrawal sickness.

  • dchang0||

    Yes, and also deadly fentanyl.

    If people want to kill themselves in pleasurable ways, let them do so. It beats suicide by cop or wrong-way collisions or suicide by gun.

    Meth doesn't kill as fast, but it kills nonetheless.

    Oh, if the methheads decide to steal or attack anyone else because of their habit, then of course the persons they are victimizing should be allowed to defend themselves and their property without repercussion, which is not entirely allowed in Calif.

  • dchang0||

    Also, don't use the tired old rhetoric of: "would you feel the same way if your family member died from an overdose?"

    Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) just lost his stepson to a fentanyl overdose, and what was his response?

    1) The US gov't should put pressure on China's gov't to fix the problem with illegal fentanyl manufacturing.
    2) Failing that, the US should send in a covert team to assassinate the heads of the manufacturers of fentanyl.

    Yes, really.

    So for the death of one kid who willingly put drugs into his own body, we're supposed to risk the lives of millions of Americans and Chinese in events that could trigger a state-on-state war.

    Scott didn't do enough himself to stop his stepson from partaking of drugs, yet he runs to nanny gov't for remedy.

    So no, that argument "what would you do if it were your own kid" is stupid. Clearly it leads to highly dangerous and irrational behavior because it's tied so much to powerful emotions.

  • dchang0||

    Scott Adams seems to have backed off of his argument that we should send in US covert assassins into China and is now talking about:

    1) jacking up postal rates from China to US. I agree with this because (apparently unbeknownst to Adams), we are subsidizing China-to-US postal rates so that they are artificially low.

    2) private donors can build a "rehab city" where drug addicts can be treated

    So he's slowly regaining sanity.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    what does anecdotes have to do with real science/logic based policy? You don't look at anecdotes to make policy you look at trends and statistics.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Forget it Jake, It's California.

  • Hank Phillips||

    A half-century ago San Francisco and Vancouver were places where you could light up at the corner pub. So now Vancouver is the cool place left standing--or will be in a couple of weeks.

  • dchang0||

    I guess sales of marijuana tinctures designed for mixture with beer will take off.

    I thought the far-left Calif. gov't would love pot, since its voters do, but I guess they couldn't shake off their authoritarian tendencies towards micromanagement of personal lives.

  • kevinhart||

    I personally think it a great decision by the government. But I also know it will be available at some places. So don't be panic. Visit the HP printer Setup for HP printers errors.

  • Brandybuck||

    Sounds like someone wants to bottle bong water...

  • Angelique||

    Do you know how long it took to legalize medical marijuana? And Sessions wants to keep it illegal at the Federal level. So the road to complete legalization is going to be long and bumpy. Do not expect perfection at this stage of the game. Just be thankful that you got this far.

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