POISON CITY BREWING
Top CEOs back SA’s first cannabis lager beer
A craft brewery backed by two prominent CEOs of JSE-listed companies says it has launched the country’s first beer made with cannabis.
The brewer has received funding from a number of well-known Durban-based investors, including RCL Foods CEO Miles Dally and Spar CEO Graham O’Connor.
Poison City Brewing started selling a lager containing hemp — a variety of the cannabis sativa plant largely devoid of mind-altering ingredients — in major liquor chains in September, according to the company’s co-owner, Andre Schubert.
The launch comes shortly after the Constitutional Court effectively decriminalised the private use of cannabis in SA, and as global brewing giants increasingly link up with marijuana producers.
International brewers are selling less beer in territories where cannabis has been legalised, prompting them to seek tie-ups.
A 2017 study by Georgia State University found that alcohol sales had fallen 15% in US states where medicinal marijuana had been legalised.
In August, Constellation Brands, which makes Corona beers in the US, poured another $4bn into Canadian marijuana company Canopy Growth.
Diageo, which makes Guinness beers and Johnnie Walker whiskey, is reportedly in talks with Canadian marijuana producers about a possible deal, and Molson Coors Brewing Company, through its own joint venture, plans to make cannabis drinks in Canada, which is in the process of legalising the recreational use of marijuana.
"Cannabis beers are becoming a massive worldwide trend … We’re setting a precedent for other breweries in SA by being the first to experiment with this ingredient here," said Graeme Bird, co-owner and founder of the Durban-based Poison City Brewing.
"Hops and cannabis are very closely related and share many similar chemical characteristics, which means that hemp is an interesting and viable ingredient for beer-making," Bird said.
Hemp is a type of cannabis that does not contain the psychoactive ingredient which makes a user "high" – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
As it is not yet legal in SA to grow hemp, Schubert said the beer was made with legally imported strains, mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe.
To import hemp, SA companies need certificates showing that THC levels are below certain thresholds.
Schubert said Poison City Brewing would be keen to add small amounts of THC to certain brews if SA’s laws allowed it.
He was also in favour of local hemp production, as the plant was easy to grow and could create large-scale employment in rural areas, in addition to greater tax revenues and export opportunities. The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries said in September it had formally requested the departments of health, justice and constitutional development to consider the necessary legislative changes to allow for the commercialisation of hemp.
The IFP said in a statement in September that its campaign to legalise hemp cultivation "is starting to bear fruit".
"The IFP believes … the commercialisation of hemp farming in the country could have vast economic and employment potential, and must therefore be unpacked, studied and piloted by the relevant departments and phased into our economy as soon as possible."
Hemp fibres can be used to make industrial materials, fabrics and clothing.