Marijuana Meets Moonshine
By BEN DETRICK
SPEAKEASY-STYLE bars with secret entrances and Prohibition themes may be popular, but their illegality is only an illusion.
That wasn’t the case when 100 guests gathered in a Los Angeles loft for a party celebrating April 20, which has emerged as a national holiday for marijuana users.
During dinner, the host offered a selection of innovative cocktails: one featured moonshine and a shiso leaf dipped in marijuana-laced sesame oil, and another was a Gibson infused with cannabis smoke.
“When you put THC in alcohol, you feel it immediately,” said Daniel K. Nelson, the designer of the cocktails and an owner of Writer’s Room (a Hollywood bar), referring to tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. “I definitely got mega-high. I had to tone it down for the guests.”
Good thing the police didn’t show. While medical marijuana dispensaries are permitted in California, and a flier advertising the party said that dispensary cards would be checked at the door (it’s unclear if they were), few were under the impression this event was legal. After all, it’s harder to make a case for compassionate use when vodka and martini shakers are involved.
Still, the combination of marijuana and alcohol dovetails with the popularity of mixology and speakeasy-style bars.
“Cannabis cocktails are relatively recent phenomena,” said Elise McDonough, author of the “Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook.” Her book, released on April 20, includes recipes for drinks like the Jamaican Me Crazy (a piña colada with cannabis) and a Bonghitters’ Mota Mojito, made with cannabis-infused rum, mint and lime.
For decades, farmers in places like Northern California and upstate New York have made private batches of wine steeped with marijuana.
“Grapes are grown in the same land where the nation’s finest ganja is grown,” Ms. McDonough said. “They were just putting pot in everything.”
More recently, marijuana-tinged beverages like the potsicle (vodka and marijuana-spiked fruit punch, shaken with ice) have been served at the Cannabis Cup, an annual contest that was started in Amsterdam in 1987 and now takes place in Denver, Detroit, San Francisco and other cities where marijuana dispensaries have been allowed. Attendees must be older than 18 and need a valid state ID and doctor’s note to enter “medication” areas.
Such drinks have even shown up on some store shelves — sort of, as novelties for law-abiding citizens. A brewery called Nectar Ales in Paso Robles, Calif., produces a hemp ale with “herb-accented flavor.” And Alaska Distillery in Wasilla sells a spirit called Purgatory vodka made from hemp.
Neither product contains THC, but they generate considerable notoriety.
“People are acting like I’m selling crack by the side of the street,” said Bella Coley of Alaska Distillery. “They’re going crazy for it.”
The trend has its critics, not least of all marijuana dispensaries that argue that cocktails like marijuana margaritas dilute the message that the plant has medicinal value.
“I don’t like the idea of associating cannabis with alcohol,” said Steve DeAngelo, the director of Harborside Health Center, a marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif. “We believe it’s a wellness product, not an inebriant.”
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has not detected a rise in marijuana-infused alcoholic beverages.
“I’m not aware of anything recent,” said Casey Rettig, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco division.
But she recalled a 2006 case in which drinks with names like Toka-Cola and Bong’s Root Beer were seized.
“They had Nutella and called it ‘Budtella,’ ” she said of the contraband.