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THC beverage producers “toeing the line that doesn’t exist”

A comprehensive guide to the state’s fast-growing social beverage industry.
Image by David Monterroso
Three kinds of “Trail Magic,” a THC beverage available for sale in Minnesota.

“That doesn’t legalize marijuana … we didn’t just do that, did we?” Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, posed this infamous question shortly after Minnesota legislators accidentally legalized THC last spring.

How did accidental legalization come about? That’s an excellent question, and if anything similar had been asked during the legislative session, perhaps we’d be in a different position today. But alas, the majority of the senate declined to extend further inquiries at the presentation of the bill, and thus it passed unanimously.
The bill set the legal age of consumption at 21, determined one legal serving size of THC as 5 milligrams and specified that all THC must be derived from hemp to be up to standard. The cultivation of industrial hemp was legalized in Minnesota under the 2018 Farm Bill.

While they are chemically identical, distinguishing between hemp-derived THC and marijuana is important, according to Jason Dayton, University of Minnesota alumni and co-founder and co-owner of Minneapolis Cider Company.

According to Dayton, products containing hemp-derived THC can be purchased online and can travel across state lines — something that can’t be done in other states that have legalized marijuana. In other states that have legalized THC, the legal dose is 10 milligrams.

“We socialize around beverages. Maybe it’s caffeine, in coffee or tea. Maybe it’s alcohol and beer or wine. This is just the next version of that,” Jake Bullock, co-owner of California-based THC beverage company Cann, said.

Bullock said he thinks THC beverage products are eroding the stigma around cannabis due to their appeal to the mainstream consumer. Many beverages on the market, including Cann, contain 2-3 milligrams of THC and are being marketed as a social alternative to alcohol. Producers are seeing success in this approach among an ever-increasing number of sober curious folks seeking something that will let them participate in a social setting without the comedown of alcohol.

“By putting in a beverage format, it eliminates the stigma that lets people just focus on ‘hey, I want a different feeling for the night,’” Dayton said. “Some people will say that this kind of gives them a different way of thinking or leads to different conversations that they might otherwise not have.”

Minnesota is in a unique position to break down barriers when it comes to cannabis consumption. In other legalized states, products cannot be consumed on site and have to be purchased at hemp shops or dispensaries, according to Dayton.

By allowing consumers to integrate THC consumption into social experiences at a bar or restaurant, the state is setting itself up to be a model for other states looking to legalize THC.

“It’s the same social lubricant that everybody is used to,” Dayton said. “The most remarkable thing about launching Trail Magic is how unremarkable it’s been, in that it’s perfectly normal here.”

Jack Schulick, a senior at the University, described feeling “extremely relaxed” after consuming a THC seltzer while at Mesa Pizza.

“Overall, I found the experience to be really nice. I think as long as regulations remain what they are, I’ll absolutely continue to enjoy them,” Schulick said.

While it is still early to arrive at any concrete demographic conclusions given the newness of the industry, consumption rates have been across the board when it comes to age groups. From first-time users to veteran cannabis consumers, reception has been largely positive by way of anecdotal evidence.

“There is a good amount of first-time users but more often than not, it’s somebody who did it in their 20s, in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Chris Fream, a brand manager in the Twin Cities hospitality market, said.

As an increasing number of breweries and taprooms have ventured into the industry, consumers may be curious about the brand name disassociation with each new product. Just as laws regarding the sale of CBD infused products were fuzzy after its initial legalization, so too are the regulations regarding the production and distribution of THC beverages.

To remain ahead of likely tightened regulations in the next legislative session, businesses are opting to market entirely separate brands of THC beverages. By keeping their brands separate (i.e. Minneapolis Cider Company and Trail Magic) and keeping production off-site, businesses will likely avoid any major conflicts in the event of a total rollback on current THC allowances.

“The biggest challenge right now is that there’s very few guidelines at all,” Fream said. “We’re toeing the line that doesn’t exist.”

According to Fream, producers want to see an increase in regulations to do things the right way. Operating within set guidelines removes room for error and limits potential risks for businesses. For example, there is no legal age currently set for those selling THC beverages. Given this, anyone from a 14-year-old working part time at the hardware store to a 45-year-old brewmaster can technically sell THC beverages.

According to Tom Whisenand, CEO of Indeed Brewing Company, guidelines regarding taxation, security, manufacturing and sales would all be beneficial to businesses.

“In Minnesota, we have a very young, sort of in-power market right now. The products reflect that, but I think you’ll see it evolve over time,” Whisenand said.

Approach THC beverages with the same caution you’d grant alcohol, both during and after consumption.

If it is your first time with THC, Bullock’s best advice is to take it slow. He said because of the liquid nature of the product, the effects of the THC will occur faster — but this also means the impact will wear off sooner.

Drink half of the beverage and sit for a bit. See how you feel. If you’re a little loose, experiencing a sensation akin to that slight buzz from a cocktail, feel free to keep going.

Feeling the onset of some anxiety? Put it down and pick up some water. Due to the low dosage amounts, the latter likely won’t occur, but it is always better to be on the safe side and remain in tune with yourself.

While THC beverages are available for carry-out in most places, adhere to the same open container laws you’d follow with alcohol. Operating motor vehicles while under the influence of THC is illegal as well.

“It’s one of the largest social experience experiments that has ever been done,” Fream said. “We kind of started it accidentally, and it’s going way better than everybody ever expected.”

From the Burrito Loco bar to the counter of Adam’s Tobacco Shop, students can find THC beverages across campus and the surrounding neighborhoods. Here’s where to grab them locally:

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