The federal government just put a damper on the 4/20 weekend plans of several South Florida breweries by demanding that they cease production of several new beers brewed with cannabis-derived terpenes. This month, Invasive Species Brewing in Fort Lauderdale and Devour Brewing in Boynton Beach both received cease and desist letters from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) stating that each of these beers must individually receive federal approval before it can be legally sold to the public.
Several South Florida breweries began to experiment with adding cannabis terpenes to their beers last year. Terpenes are flavor molecules that are responsible for some of the pungent aroma and flavor of weed, but have absolutely no psychoactive effect on their own. "The idea isn't to create beers that smell or taste like weed, but instead provide a new depth of flavor you can't get with just hops and adjuncts alone," CW Smith, director of operations for Terpene Station, said to the Miami New Times. Smith's company sources terpenes from cannabis legally grown in Colorado to make oils that are then used by local breweries like Devour and Invasive Species to create their new beers.
These new terpene-flavored beers do not provide any more of a high than any other beer with a similar alcohol content, but that hasn't stopped the federal government from demanding that the breweries cease production. The TTB explained that while terpene oils are not necessarily illegal, the agency does require any products containing these oils to be individually submitted for approval and tested to ensure they do not contain any psychoactive compounds.
"If you've used an ingredient, like [cannabis] terpenes oil, you would need to come to us for formula approval first, since that product isn't recognized as a traditional beer ingredient," TTB spokesperson Thomas Hogue said to SouthFlorida.com. Hogue noted that some recipes may also need independent approvals from both the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration, a truly daunting task for an independent company.
Devour Brewing had planned a beer party for this week's 4/20 holiday, but officials have said that they may cancel now that their new beer has been prohibited. Phil Gillis, head brewer at Invasive Species, said that his company may go ahead with their 4/20 party regardless of the feds' letter.
"[The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] told me not to make any more beer, but they didn't tell me I had to cancel my event," Gillis said to SouthFlorida.com.
Federal prohibition laws have caused a number of similar issues for companies wishing to use cannabis extracts in their products, even if said extracts are completely non-psychoactive. Many U.S. states are struggling to clarify laws regarding the use of CBD, which has a wide number of proven medical uses.
Like terpene oils, CBD produces no "high" or other psychoactive effect, but police in states like Indiana and Alaska have raided stores selling these products, claiming that they are prohibited under federal law. This year, several states, including Indiana, have passed laws that now explicitly allow the sale of low-THC CBD oils. The majority of these CBD oils are derived from hemp, which may become fully legal this year if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Hemp Farming Act of 2018 passes.
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As laws regarding cannabis and cannabis extracts slowly begin to relax, more companies are beginning to research the intersection of alcohol and cannabis. While a number of smaller breweries explore one-off beers infused with terpenes or other cannabis extracts, larger alcohol corporations are also considering ways to bring marijuana-infused alcoholic drinks to the market.