In early 2018, on a trip to Los Angeles, I popped in to Gracias Madre in West Hollywood. I was excited for its plant-based Mexican food, but also wanted to try the Stoney Negroni, which I’d heard about while working on a story about dangerous drinks. California had (sort of) legalized marijuana in 2016, and chef Jason Eisner had generated some headlines by adding cannabidiol to some of the restaurant’s cocktails. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical compound in marijuana that purportedly relaxes you physically but doesn’t get you high (distinct from tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, which does), so the drink name was a bit of a fake-out. Still, when I’d talked to him, he’d joked how, when he described his plan for the drinks, he could hear their lawyer sweating.
The cocktail was delicious. Granted, I may have given it extra points for tasting more like an herbal Negroni rather than the bong-water aperitivo I’d feared. If I experienced any effect from the CBD, it was negligible compared to the L.A.-tourist euphoria derived from eating on a sunny outdoor patio in mid-February. As it turns out, I’d sipped that drink under the wire: Later in 2018, California forbade any business with an alcoholic beverage license from selling cannabis products at the same location. Recreational weed is fully legal in the state, and nothing can stop you from walking into a dispensary and then a liquor store to buy the materials needed to DIY your own cannabis-and-booze drink, but as a bar, if you put booze and marijuana together (even non-psychoactive CBD), you’re risking your liquor license.
It’s just one example in the endless weirdness of marijuana law. Weed is still federally verboten. The Biden administration recently canned a number of staff for disclosed earlier marijuana use. With nearly half the states now allowing recreational use, the trend is clear, but the legal patchwork means, for example, that I may not partake in the devil’s lettuce in liberal Maryland, but a mile away in Washington I can. And this month, Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize recreational weed, beginning July 1. This is the situation around the country, where state laws vary around personal consumption and possession and selling and growing and transport. Generally, legislatures agree only that “Garfield: The Movie” should never be watched by Americans who are not extremely high.
Before I get into a few basics on cannabis as a drink ingredient, it’s worth touching on the commercial side. As legalization has moved along, cannabis drink brands have become available. None contain alcohol — with a few narrow exceptions around hemp, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau won’t approve alcohol formulas that include weed. But some well-known producers in the alcohol world are getting into cannabis beverages, and several brands are making drinks that are close to spritzes or cocktails.
One of the few I’ve tried, Artet, is quite delicious. The flagship bottle tastes like a spicy ginger beer/amaro hybrid that will likely appeal to craft cocktail types. While some consumers seek out (and the weed industry often delivers) products that aim for high potency, “our goal was always to create a sippable cannabis beverage,” says Xander Shepherd, co-founder of Artet. That means “controlled, precise, sessionable dosing that allows people to have their cannabis experience fit into what they’re doing rather than it being the main event.”
Where Artet aims for flavor and a real cocktail equivalent, ALT (Advanced Liquid Technology) is focused on effect, producing small, neatly measured 5- or 10-milligram vials of fairly neutral THC-laced liquid designed to be added to any drink in a dose the consumer chooses. ALT uses nanotechnology to reduce cannabis particle size, which results in faster absorption and thus faster effect.
This factor “relieves a lot of the tension” for the consumer of a typical edible, says ALT co-founder Robert Davis. If someone eats a THC-infused cookie, “they might not feel anything for half an hour or 45 minutes, and so then they consume more. And then, before you know, an hour-and-a-half has passed by, and they’re really, really feeling it and kind of in a place where they didn’t want to be,” Davis says. With microdoses that hit more quickly, a consumer “can self-regulate their dose the way you do with a beer.”
Why write about products that most readers outside of California won’t easily lay hands on? They’re instructive for the home mixer. Because where legalization has allowed companies to invest in sophisticated tech that allows for increased control over dosing, flavor integration, balance, and how soon and long the drug’s impact will be felt, home mixers have no such capacities. This is a starter kit: You’ll make something that tastes like roasted weed. You’ll have limited control of how much THC it has, or when and how it will impact you. If you’re going to delve into cannabis drinks, for the love of all that’s Spicoli, be safe. On the advice of counsel (a.k.a. my editor), I will also say here clearly that The Post doesn’t condone illicit drug use. So if you decide to explore cannabis drinks, please situate yourself in the nearest arbitrarily determined patch of earth that allows you to do so without running afoul of law enforcement. That said, here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to mix up a chronic ’n’ tonic.
Know your own strength: Legalization and commercialization have made it easier to understand the likely strength and effect of marijuana you buy. There are whole menus delving into flavor, strength, effects. But this is still one of the diciest areas of making a cannabis edible or potable and why a recipe that works the same way every time is challenging. Cannabis is a botanical product; the chemical contents vary crop to crop and varietal to varietal, and many strains sold are cultivated to be high in THC. Do not assume that the tincture recipe that once produced a pleasant tingle will not suddenly have you facedown on the couch for hours when you use a different plant. Decarb your dope: The process that turns the chemical contents in “raw” marijuana into THC happens instantly when you smoke a joint: fire, chemical conversion, inhalation and, hey presto, you’re Snooped. But if you’re making something to drink, you have to decarboxylate the cannabis before putting it into liquid. If you don’t want your home reeking of weed, you want to do this in something closed: a Mason jar with the lid on securely but not too tightly, for example. Put 14 grams (1/2 ounce) of fresh, well-ground cannabis in the container, seal it and set it in a baking pan lined with a damp kitchen towel (to steady the jar). Set your oven to around 240 degrees and bake it for 45 minutes, then let the jar cool completely.
Infuse some booze: Once jar and contents are cool, cover the plant matter with 8 ounces of high-proof alcohol. Everclear (a 190-proof neutral grain spirit) works well. Seal the jar, shake it, and set it in a cool, dark place to infuse for 24 hours. When done, strain out the solids. What you have is an extremely alcoholic tincture to use in very small amounts in other beverages. You will not enjoy drinking it by itself, more because of the burn of the high-proof alcohol than the flavor.
Make your drinks: I feel silly lecturing, considering I rarely add cautionary notes about cocktails even though alcohol is implicated in who knows how many tragedies every year. Treating cannabis like it’s scarier seems absurd, so I’m going to continue to assume you’re an intelligent adult who makes smart choices about what you put in your body and when. That said, not to put too fine a joint on it … use this stuff in very small doses. If you start with cannabis containing 15 percent THC, the recipe I outlined will result in a tincture with approximately 9.5 mg THC per 1/4 teaspoon. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, some edibles manufacturers and Colorado law use 10 mg as a standard serving, but the project suggests that new users start with 5 mg. So the first time you use the tincture, try 1/8 teaspoon in drinks where it’ll taste good — lemonade with fresh basil leaves, chilled chai tea, spicy ginger ale. And, yes, if you choose, incorporate it into alcoholic drinks: Think Campari, Cynar, coffee liqueur, Chartreuse, strong flavors in which the herbal note will play a complementary role.