Predicting pot’s future might be a fool’s errand as long as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a spot in Donald Trump’s cabinet. Because everyone needs a hobby, Sessions is an aggressive cannabis critic, proclaiming the drug to be “only slightly less awful” than heroin and hinting that the Department of Justice might crack down on recreational marijuana, including in states where it’s legal. But vague federal threats haven’t stopped bullish market projections: The research firm Greenwave Advisors, for example, expects all states to legalize pot by 2021, which could make an already-booming, $9.7 billion industry positively explode in the years to come.
Burke isn't naming his potential partners, but other wine and spirits brands have already beaten them to the punch when it comes to experimenting with cannabis. Earlier this year, California’s Humboldt Distillery released Humboldt’s Finest, an 80-proof organic vodka infused with a locally grown, food-grade hemp without any detectable THC, which makes it legal in all 50 states.
Humboldt and other distillers are able to use hemp, the strain of cannabis grown for food and fiber, thanks to the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized the growing and cultivating of “industrial hemp,” provided it has a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent. (As of this writing, at least 34 states have passed industrial hemp legislation.) So while Humboldt’s Finest won’t get you high, at least it still smells a bit like fresh cannabis.
Alcohol is threatened by legal weed, simply as a competing intoxicant.
“Of course, alcohol is threatened by legal weed, simply as a competing intoxicant,” says Lewis. “But the booze industry shouldn’t be as worried as the pharmaceutical industry. I’d generally say that most consumers are not going to be full-stop replacing alcohol with pot or abandoning pot entirely, while many of the people on opioid painkillers could easily start using cannabinoid medicines instead.”
If there’s any tension between the alcohol and cannabis industries, it appears to be minimal. “It’s mainly for those large, profit-driven companies worried about squeezing every last dollar from consumers,” says Brett Konen, an editor at Leafly and contributor to the newly released Leafly Guide to Cannabis. Besides, most insiders say the thought of a joint collaboration is too intoxicating to pass up. “Some people feel tension, some people feel opportunity,” says Burke.
One roadblock standing in the way of a successful—and mega-profitable—partnership: a lack of solid research on the effects of crossfading.