JeepersMedia_Flickr

Photo by JeepersMedia_Flickr

Coke High: Soft Drink Giant Maybe Eyeing a Cannabis ‘Recovery Drink’

Big soda behemoth Coca-Cola is sniffing out a marijuana beverage deal as bigger U.S. corporations plant their seeds in the cannabis industry.

There is truth to the old urban legend that Coca-Cola used to have real cocaine in it — that is, until 1903. There is also truth to the recent rumor that Coca-Cola is looking to get back into the drugged-up drink game, as a recent report that Coke is in talks to produce a cannabis-infused beverage sent shockwaves and giggles through the trillion-dollar soft drink and beverage industry.

“New Coke,” indeed.

But Coca-Cola is not working on a weed-infused drink that would get people high. Instead, Coke is doing its background research on cannabis firms with whom it might eventually partner on a CBD-only beverage, just in case that non-psychoactive cannabinoid compound is soon legalized in some form.

Bloomberg broke the news two weeks ago that Coca-Cola was in “serious talks” to release a buddha beverage with Aurora Cannabis, a Canadian firm that is the second largest marijuana corporation in the world, causing Aurora shares to leap 23 percent.

“Coca-Cola would be a great partner,” Aurora Cannabis CEO Terry Booth said in a celebratory Bloomberg TV interview. “We’ve spoken to at least three beverage companies in the last three months.”

The mortified Coca-Cola Company immediately put out a terse denial statement, but one in which they acknowledged they are kinda-sorta interested in a cannabis drink.

“We have no interest in marijuana or cannabis,” the company said in a release. “Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time.”

You’ll notice that Coca-Cola is taking great pains to say that they’re interested in CBD “functional wellness beverages.” That’s a legal-lingo reference to one specific type of the cannabidiol CBD that could soon be legal in all 50 states.

The U.S. Congress is on the verge of legalizing hemp, a non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant that contains CBD — but not the drug THC. That vote has been delayed until after the midterm elections, but Big Beverage corporations are still beginning to bet on bud.

Corona Beer owner Constellation Brands made a $4 billion investment in a Canadian pot company this summer, in hopes of developing an infused drink when Canada goes fully legal later this month. Closer to home, Lagunitas Brewing Company just put out a THC-infused, non-alcoholic drink.

The mighty Coca-Cola’s entry into the industry could blow those beverage companies out of the water. But it would help legitimize cannabis products as a respected line of business fit for an all-American brand.

“Having brands like Coca-Cola jump in would help to increase the size of the market through normalization and the attention they bring,” says Amy Ludlum, CEO and co-founder of infused soda brand California Dreamin’. “At the same time, Coca-Cola has a massive amount of resources to deploy, and retail shelf space is finite.

“While Coca-Cola entering the market would grow the number of potential customers, it would get harder to reach those customers for small producers,” she adds.

The Coca-Cola Company is a lot more than just Coke. The company produces other, healthier-seeming drinks like Minute Maid, Odwalla, and Powerade. Sources with inside knowledge of Coke’s negotiations said this drink would fit alongside those squeaky-clean beverage names, and would not be marketed to stoners.

“It’s going to be more of the ‘recovery drink’ category,” one insider told Bloomberg News.

We don’t even know for sure that the drink would ultimately be available in the U.S. Canada would be a much safer market, thanks to that country’s impending national legalization.

Coke has already shown a willingness to release adult beverages internationally, putting out a fruit-flavored booze drink earlier this year in Japan. 

The Coca-Cola Company has been around for 132 years. Their recipe once dabbled in actual cocaine, so they’ve been around long enough to see certain cultural norms shift in relation to drug use.

But they’re also a $78 billion corporation that could open a can of whoop-ass on any of your favorite established players in the cannabis market.

feedback@sfevergreen.com