Brewery launches South Africa’s first cannabis lager beer with backing from top CEOs

SOUTH AFRICA – Poison City Brewing which launched the first cannabis-infused lager beer in South Africa has received funding from Durban-based investors, including RCL Foods CEO Miles Dally and Spar CEO Graham O’Connor, Business Day reports.

According to the brewer’s co-owner Andre Schubert, it started selling its lager containing hemp- made with cannabis sativa as an ingredient in September to become the first in the country.

The company plans to make cannabis drinks through its own joint venture in Canada which is in the process of legalizing recreational use of marijuana after the senate vote.

“Cannabis beers are becoming a massive worldwide trend … We’re setting a precedent for other breweries in SA by being the first to experiment with this ingredient here,” said Graeme Bird, co-owner and founder of the Durban-based Poison City Brewing.

“Hops and cannabis are very closely related and share many similar chemical characteristics, which means that hemp is an interesting and viable ingredient for beer-making.”

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant largely devoid of mind-altering ingredients that is, does not contain the psychoactive ingredient which makes a user “high” – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Legalizing marijuana

Last month, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of cannabis use for personal or private purposes among adults.

A similar ruling in March 2017 overturned the ban on cannabis use by adults for private use, effectively decriminalising it in the province that includes Cape Town.

However, growing hemp is not yet legal in South Africa as some object its use to its ‘harmful effects’.

Use of the drug or supplying or dealing with the drug in public remains an offence by law though cultivation for personal, private use will no longer be illegal for adults.

But Schubert said the beer was made with legally imported strains, mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe and SA companies need certificates showing that THC levels are below certain thresholds in order to import hemp.

He was in favour of local hemp production which had received backing from departments of health, justice and constitutional development for considerable commercialization.

Campaign to legalize cannabis has gained caption since IFP introduced the Medical Innovation Bill which in 2017 sought South Africans to grow, cultivate and manufacture cannabis for medicinal purposes.

“The IFP believes … the commercialisation of hemp farming in the country could have vast economic and employment potential, and must therefore be unpacked, studied and piloted by the relevant departments and phased into our economy as soon as possible,” said IFP in a statement in September.

Brewing cannabis taste

Global brewing giants are increasingly linking up with marijuana producers even as alcohol sales drop, seeking tie-ups especially in areas where cannabis has been legalized.

According to 2017 Georgia State University study, alcohol sales had fallen 15% in US states where medicinal marijuana had been legalised.

New York based maker of Corona beer, Constellation Brands and Canadian marijuana company Canopy Growth announced a US$4 billion investment in cannabis industry in August this year, the largest ever in the space.

In the same month, Heineken launched its new brew, Hi-Fi Hops, from California beer brand Lagunitas, made with marijuana instead of alcohol.

Diageo, which makes Guinness beers and Johnnie Walker whiskey, is reportedly in talks with Canadian marijuana producers about a possible deal, and Molson Coors Brewing Company, through its own joint venture, plans to make cannabis drinks in Canada.

Coca-Cola is the latest, yet to enter the cannabis space as it was reported to be in talks with Canadian licensed cannabis producer, Aurora Cannabis for a possible foray into cannabis-infused beverages.

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