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A PBR Seltzer Spiked With THC Hits Shelves, Aiming At The ‘Canna-Curious’

Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon cannabis-infused lemon seltzer are non-alcoholic, with 5mg of THC. A four-pack costs $24. Pabst Labs hide caption

Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon cannabis-infused lemon seltzer are non-alcoholic, with 5mg of THC. A four-pack costs $24.

Cans of lemon seltzer spiked with the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – and branded with the famous Pabst Blue Ribbon logo — are rolling out in California, in a new sign of the growth of THC-infused drinks.

While a THC seltzer may seem like a niche product, it’s actually part of a larger pattern, where big companies want to learn more about a part of the cannabis market that could see explosive growth in the next few years.

And with dosage amounts becoming more predictable, THC drinks are increasingly being compared to beer.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Mark Faicol, the brand manager at Pabst Labs. “And right now our challenge is really producing enough product to keep up with demand from retailers.”

The new seltzer is non-alcoholic, but it contains 5mg of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, along with purified water, lemon concentrate, sugar and other flavors. It’s now being sold in cannabis dispensaries, costing $24 for a four-pack. The seltzer is also sold online, with delivery possible in Los Angeles, Sacramento, the Bay Area, and Humboldt County.

Pabst Labs is run by former PBR employees. Their connections eased the path to put the Pabst brewery’s name on cans that promise a different kind of buzz to PBR consumers.

Canna-curiosity

So, who’s the target consumer for a THC seltzer?

It’s aimed at what Rick Maturo, Nielsen’s associate director of client services for cannabis practice, calls the “canna-curious” — people who might have some experience with marijuana, but aren’t frequent users. Now they’re being offered cannabis in a format that doesn’t require smoking, vaping, or eating.

Faicol says the single-serving cans and low- to medium-dosage of THC should also help ease concerns of getting too intoxicated. He adds that the liquid extract in the seltzer will help people gauge its effects.

“It’s going to have an onset time of 20 to 30 minutes, which is a lot quicker than many other edible products,” he says, adding that wary drinkers could also stop halfway through a can to further control their dosage.

Maturo says some people already view THC beverages in much the same way they see alcoholic beverages.

“Certainly it’s a way to relax and unwind at the end of the day,” he says.

“People are using it for what we refer to as ‘experience enhancement,’ so just taking a regular activity and adding a new spin to it, with either THC in this case or in some cases alcohol,” Maturo says.

PBR cannabis seltzer began appearing in dispensaries around two weeks ago. That quiet rollout is now being expanded, with an eye toward eventually reaching markets outside of California.

“Everyone wants it — our first initial production sold out immediately, the same with our second production run,” Faicol says.

A growing market

Faicol says the THC beverage market is predicted to eventually be worth billions of dollars. But for now, the sector is pretty small. THC drinks represented only about 1% of all legal cannabis sales in 2019 – totaling around $64 million, Maturo says. Those figures reflect California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Nevada — five states where cannabis has been legal long enough for Nielsen to compile a year’s worth of data.

For the THC beverage market to grow, it will have to overcome several hurdles, from marijuana’s murky regulatory standing to social norms that often support drinking Bud, not bud. Then there are the logistical challenges of making, transporting and selling drinks — something that many cannabis companies have little experience in.

But rapid growth could come if legalization spreads. Maturo cites Nielsen data that shows “a pretty big jump” in public interest in drinking THC-infused beverages if they become legally available — which could translate into growth of about 400% by 2025.

“About five times the number of folks are interested in consuming a THC beverage than what we see in terms of consumption right now,” he says.

The right dose?

Products with lower-dose THC amounts, ranging from 2.5 mg to 10 mg, have encouraged some consumers to try the substance. Often, they’re hoping to feel a little bit of a buzz without triggering some of the negative aspects of alcohol, such as its higher calories and tendency to punish over-indulgers with dehydration and a hangover.

But it’s difficult for those consumers to know exactly how to calibrate their experience, or to compare it to alcohol, Maturo says. Add in the different ways some people respond to THC, he says, and it means THC beverages at this point are “a little bit more unpredictable than your standard alcoholic beverage would be.”

And don’t expect to see a cannabis version of PBR outside of dispensaries any time soon.

“You’re not going to be able to go into a grocery store, obviously, and buy this,” Faicol says.

Alcohol companies look to tap into cannabis

Pabst is not the only brewer to get involved with THC-infused beers. California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company has partnered with a THC extract company to create a separate line of hoppy seltzer drinks called Hi-Fi Hops, for instance.

Some of those companies have ties to Big Beer. Lagunitas is owned by Heineken, for instance. And Ceria Brewing in Colorado was founded by Keith Villa, the creator of Blue Moon Brewing Company’s flagship beer, after he retired from MillerCoors. But none of those THC drinks bears the name of a historic U.S. beer brand like Pabst.

It’s no surprise to Maturo that Pabst would want to license its name to a cannabis beverage venture. He says the beer company, which is headquarters in Los Angeles, is following something of a trend, as large corporations that produce consumer packaged goods look for ways to be part of the billion-dollar cannabis market.

Another factor, Maturo says, is that PBR’s loyal drinkers are less likely to have a negative reaction to the THC connection than customers of bigger mainstream brands. Some corporations, after all, could risk a backlash if they were linked to a cannabis drink.

“I don’t think that’s going to be very polarizing at all for them,” he says of PBR.

Many beer and wine companies likely want to follow suit, Maturo says, after seeing trends that indicated a drop in overall alcohol consumption – especially among millennials and other young Americans. But he adds that beer companies’ initial fears about the impact of legal marijuana seem to have been overblown.

“It’s certainly not the death knell for the alcohol industry,” Maturo says. “When we do see any negative impact, it tends to be low single digits in those markets where it’s just been introduced — and typically within 18 to 24 months, we’re back to wherever those historic norms are.”

For now, many alcohol companies are limited in how they can explore the cannabis market because of laws that prevent them from mixing alcohol and cannabis.

Pabst Blue Ribbon, for instance, can’t hold a cannabis license “because it’s not federally legal,” Faicol says. He adds that PBR doesn’t have a financial stake in Pabst Labs and won’t share in the proceeds from the seltzer. But in return for allowing its name to be used, the brewer is able to learn about the new market.

The competitive landscape for products like THC and CBD could face big changes next year, when and if the U.S. government finally delivers more clarity and guidance on the industry’s regulation.

“I feel like we’re kind of at a precipice right now,” Maturo says, “where the next six months or so are going to be really integral to mapping the course of where the cannabis industry can go.”

While a THC seltzer may seem like a niche product, it’s actually part of a larger pattern, as big companies try to learn more about a part of the cannabis market that could see explosive growth.

Controversial Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati Opens Weed Dispensary, Embraces Past

Correspondent II April 18, 2013 Comments Comment Bubble Icon

It’s been 15 years since Ross Rebagliati won, lost and re-won the first gold medal in Olympic snowboarding history. For most of those 15 years, Rebagliati tried to distance himself from the bizarre sequence of events—and the 17.8 nanograms of marijuana—that triggered his sudden flirtation with celebrity.

It wasn’t until flirtation trickled into perpetuity that the Vancouver native finally decided to embrace the drug that first made him famous.

In other words, he knows what you know about him. He accepts it. He realizes he’ll always be the pot-smoking snowboarder dude who nearly lost Olympic gold.

It’s an odd legacy, but at least he isn’t afraid of it anymore. In fact, he wants to profit from it.

“It’s really strange,” Rebagliati says of a life that’s taken him from a Japanese prison to The Tonight Show to a prominent place in Canada’s burgeoning marijuana industry, “and it’s because of the weed.”

Five Nights in Nagano

One day after Rebagliati won the men’s giant slalom at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, his coach told him he’d tested positive for marijuana. The legal limit for marijuana traces in the bloodstream was 15 nanograms. Rebagliati checked in at 17.8.

Rebagliati claimed, and still claims, that the positive was triggered by second-hand smoke he unwittingly inhaled at a going-away party. He copped to past marijuana usage, but said he stopped smoking 10 months before the Games began.

Two days later, the International Olympic Committee stripped Rebagliati of his gold medal. Roughly 32 hours after that, the IOC gave it back. The rationale for the reversal was as stunning as the initial decision: Weed, as it turned out, wasn’t on the IOC’s banned substance list.

Rebagliati was sitting inside a holding cell when he first got word of his successful appeal. Japanese authorities had spent over six hours questioning him in relation to the positive test.

It was during the interrogation and subsequent imprisonment that Rebagliati first began to consider the weight of what had just happened. N erves turned to dread as he realized that the fight over his gold medal was quickly metastasizing into something much larger than snowboarding, or even sport.

Ross Rebagliati, Canadian snowboarder, was smack dab in the middle of a culture war.

“It was intense,” Regabliati recalls of the prison. “It was full of cigarette smoke. It was like a scene out of Hawaii Five-0. They were typing on, like, old-fashioned typewriters. They had cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves. And they had the John Wayne hair.”

Upon release, Rebagliati became an unlikely Olympic celebrity. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He was the subject of two columns by famed New York Times scribe George Vecsey. The prime minister of Canada called to offer support.

There were darker moments, too. Rick Reilly ribbed him on the back page of Sports Illustrated. His family received death threats.

One time at a highway stop in Eastern Canada, a kid asked for Rebagliati’s autograph. Before Rebagliati could oblige, the child’s dad interceded, called Rebagliati a “drug addict” and hauled the kid away. It would be the first of many public confrontations.

“Little shit like that can get under skin,” Rebagliati says.

Regabliati heard the jokes—Leno called him Ross Dimebagliati—and weathered the scorn. He was 26 years old. He figured it would pass.

Becoming the Anti-Stoner

There’s a certain naivete in Rebagliati’s assumption that his reputation would evolve past the ’98 incident.

Did the toe-headed Canadian snowboarder who looks like Steve Zahn and talks in a cadence reminiscent of Jeff Spicoli really think folks would somehow forget the whole weed thing? He was Stoner No. 1 from central casting, for chrissake. No one was going to forget.

Maybe then it was just wishful thinking.

And if it was, it’s hard to blame him. No person wants to believe that his life will be defined by a single youthful indiscretion—particularly one as benign as testing positive for second-hand inhalation.

After he got his gold medal back, Rebagliati told the New York Times, “I’m definitely going to change my lifestyle.”

He now says comments in that vein were never sincere and were made under pressure. But even if Rebagliati always planned to continue smoking pot, he was at least serious about the change part.

After snowboarding, he dove head first into the corporate world. He worked for a while in real estate. He dabbled in politics. He tried to become, as best he could, the anti-stoner.

“I went pretty much as opposite a direction as you can,” Rebagliati recalls.

When the housing market crashed in 2007, Rebagliati’s corporate dreams hit a dead end. With his chosen industry smoldering in chaos, Rebagliati turned to the one asset he had left: his fame.

“I’m still getting the cover of the newspaper because of pot, 15 years later,” Rebagliati says, “I was at this point in my life where I’m going to go broke. or I’m gonna provide for my family and my two kids and take care of my wife any way I can. For me not to take advantage of the obvious opportunity at that point was irresponsible in my mind. I just sort of bit the bullet.”

“Coming out of the Pot Closet”

From that epiphany came Rebagliati’s newest business endeavor: Ross’ Gold, a java hut, marijuana dispensary and head shop rolled into one.

In late January, shortly after the Canadian government OKed the privatization of prescription-based marijuana distribution, Rebagliati announced plans to open a flagship location in the resort town of Whistler, British Columbia.

Rebagliati anticipates that his country will eventually legalize full recreational marijuana use. And when it does, he believes Ross’ Gold, which he plans to franchise, will be in an ideal position.

For those that see his business as shameless celebrity profiteering, Rebagliati wants to make it clear that this decision didn’t come easy. ” I just found myself backed up against the wall, so I went head first into something I was kind of afraid of doing,” he said.

Changing attitudes about marijuana also played a role in Rebagliati’s public embrace of the drug.

When Rebagliati won his gold medal, the North American medical marijuana movement was still in its infancy and full decriminalization was little more than a pipe dream. Societal attitudes toward pot were still stuck, at least to some degree, in the paradigm created by Nancy Reagan’s war on drugs.

Though there’d been some movement since the mid-1980’s, Bill Clinton’s famous 1992 remark that he “didn’t inhale” when experimenting with marijuana in college reflected a culture still coming to terms with recreational drug use, not quite sure whether to treat pot as taboo or simply alternative.

Rebagliati is a student of geopolitical history, and he’s particularly keen on the evolution of marijuana policy. He recognizes that the last decade has seen a tremendous shift in public support for the drug, as evidenced by new legalization measures passed in Colorado and Washington state during the 2012 U.S. election cycle.

It was that change, he says, that allowed him to endorse, and in fact monetize, a public image he’s long tried to dodge.

“It was also something that I was relieved about,” Rebagliati says. “It was almost like I was coming out of the pot closet.”

Rebagliati still smokes. As an athlete, it helped him ease aching muscles, eat healthier and regulate his sleep patterns. These days, it’s part of what he considers a healthy lifestyle. He makes no apologies for either.

After more than a decade of derision, diversion and inveterate pandering, Rebagliati has finally surrendered to the controversy that shaped, and still shapes, his life.

“I’m 42,” Rebagliati says, “I can’t fix this anymore.”

Note: All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.

It's been 15 years since Ross Rebagliati won, lost and re-won the first gold medal in Olympic snowboarding history. For most of those 15 years, Rebagliati tried to distance himself from the bizarre sequence of events—and the 17…