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Is the UK Ready for Cannabis-Infused Drinks? Shocking Lessons from the US Market Revealed!

The UK beverage industry should prepare for a recreational cannabis market which could come into force by 2030, according to one brewer. Speaking at the London trade fair Imbibe last week, Dan Rowntree, co-founder of London brewery Big Hug Brewing and beer festival BrewLDN, said by 2030 “we will have a legalised recreational cannabis market” in the UK. Preparing for that eventuality, Rowntree said the UK needs to equip businesses to capitalise on the opportunity in that market while also helping them “mitigate against the threat” of what is “potentially coming”.

Rowntree noted a present growth of functional beverages, driven by consumer health trends and a search for better-for-you and, in some cases, mood-changing beverages. “It’s functional, it’s about looking at what ingredients are out there that could potentially add to your mood,” he said.

“At the moment, we see CBD, we see functional mushrooms, we see nootropics and adaptogens. The challenge we’ve got as an industry is to understand the efficacy and the dosage and how that actually affects people.”

Rowntree pointed to category movement in the US, which he suggested could slowly influence the UK’s stance. However, on the legislative side in the UK, there has been little movement on the topic.

Last year, then-Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp, indicated he would follow a number of recommendations set out by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concerning THC products. The ACMD recommended the total dose of delta-9-THC and all other controlled phytocannabinoids in consumer CBD products should not exceed 50 micrograms per unit of consumption, and that this limit be controlled and policed by regulatory authorities.

It followed recommendations last year from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that the daily dose of CBD – a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant – should be limited from 70mg to 10mg. The recently elected Labour government in the UK has not indicated it would have a different policy approach to the last, or seek for decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis.

Lesson from the US market is that an uneven regulatory environment for cannabis in the US has caused major producers to slow down or halt their entry into the category. Last year, Molson Coors Beverage Co. sold its share of Canada cannabis drinks venture Truss Beverage Co. to Tilray Brands. Molson Coors Beverage Co. has also ended its Truss USA joint venture with Canadian cannabis company Hexo Corp in the US. The drinks major said the fact “there remains no near-term pathway to federal legalisation” was behind its decision. The brewer added it would be willing to re-enter the segment should the regulatory landscape in the US change.

Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits ended its US distribution deal with Canada-based CENTR Brands Corp. for its CBD beverage products last year. In a statement, CENTR said the partnership ended due to the “determination” of the major US and international distributor to exit the CBD category in the US “in its entirety”.

As the UK beverage industry contemplates a future with legalised recreational cannabis, looking to the US offers valuable lessons. The US experience highlights the importance of a clear and consistent regulatory framework to ensure market stability and growth.

UK policymakers and industry leaders should work together to create a robust regulatory environment that encourages innovation while protecting consumer safety. By learning from the US's challenges, the UK can better prepare its beverage sector for a seamless and successful transition into the cannabis market.

Should the UK government adopt a clear and consistent regulatory framework for cannabis to help the beverage industry thrive?

  • Yes, it's essential for growth and innovation.

  • No, the current regulations are sufficient.

  • Unsure, need more information.


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