In a lot of ways, Hemp and hops seem like they're just meant to go together. After all, they share common ancestors, common flavor profiles, and common recreational uses, says Tom Hembree, the co-founder of the Dad and Dudes Breweria in Aurora, Colorado.
At the end of 2012, the state voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Since shortly after, Dad And Dudes has been out front in the effort to develop and market a Beer made with cannabis. The next batch of brew infused with cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive compound extracted from cannabis, is almost ready to be put in cans. For Hembree, hemp and other cannabis by-products like CBD are "just another hop essence."
If only it were that simple.
Beers made with hemp have been around for decades: In 1999, while returning from Mexico aboard Air Force One, President Bill Clinton reportedly sampled some Hemp Gold, a cream ale produced by the now-defunct Frederick Brewing Company of Maryland. But despite the explosive growth of America's craft beer scene and the growing acceptance of legal weed, the production and popularity of hemp beers have been limited by a litany of Federal and state restrictions, while other laws make it difficult to distribute across state lines.
That's true even in places like Colorado, where craft beer is a booming industry and recreational marijuana is legal. Just down the street from the brewery, you can stroll into a dispensary and find cannabis to be smoked, weed-infused bakery items or candies to be munched, and concentrate to be vaped.
But Dad and Dudes had to get permission from three different federal agencies, along with state authorities, before brewing their George Washington's Secret Stash—so named because George grew hemp on his farm at Mount Vernon in the days before such production was banned by federal fiat. And when federal rules about using hemp changed abruptly in December 2016, production had to be shut down. "It's been a struggle," says Hembree. Only now, a year and a half later, after a lawsuit and with the beer's legality still somewhat unclear, are they ready to try again.
The loosening of state-level marijuana laws has spurred entrepreneurs to create new and better ways to take a toke. That spirit of innovation has created new opportunities in the hypercompetitive—some might say overcrowded—world of craft beer. But even as more states get on board with marijuana legalization, breweries that want to experiment with cannabis derivatives like hemp and CBD still face a thicket of vague, sometimes impenetrable state and federal regulations. Even breweries, like Hembree's, that successfully navigate that maze can find their permissions revoked without much warning or explanation. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many breweries to invest in this kind of experimentation. In short, hemp and hops can only work together if state and federal regulators get out of the way.
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