By Denise Morgan

On July 25, the first-ever Cannabis Drinks Expo in San Francisco kicked off to much fanfare and acclaim.

For the hundreds of participants looking to make a splash in the newly legalized cannabis drinks category, the South San Francisco Conference Center offered plenty of opportunities to meet the major movers and shakers in the fast-growing space.

Two separate tracks of speakers throughout the day covered nearly every possible issue for anyone thinking of creating or launching a new cannabis-related product, while an active trade show floor showcased some of the most innovative products already in the marketplace today.

One key theme at the Cannabis Drinks Expo was growing a new business, and many of the speakers in the morning session of the event offered a broad overview of what it takes to be successful in the cannabis drinks category. Jeff Maser, President and CEO of Tinley Beverages, gave one of the morning keynote addresses on the major barriers to cannabis beverage category growth. In his presentation, he outlined what needs to happen next in the marketplace for the cannabis drinks category to go mainstream and attract even more consumers.

That being said, there is a vast untapped market for cannabis beverages, said Bill Silver, CEO of Cannacraft. His company has been at the forefront of developing new cannabis-infused drinks offerings, and he gave an inspiring talk on “Grass into Glass: Tapping the Market for Cannabis Beverages.” Also speaking on the topic of creating a brand-new cannabis drink product was Eric Schnell, Co-Founder and President of Mood33 Cannabis Infused Sparkling Tonics.

In addition, Adam Miron, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Owner of HEXO spoke on the topic of “Mainstreaming Cannabis Beverages.” In many ways, what needs to happen for cannabis beverages to take off is increased consumer education of what’s inside the beverages. It’s much easier to sell a consumer on the concept of drinking a carbonated sparkling tonic that has been infused with cannabis than it is creating an entirely new product that may be unfamiliar to consumers.

Taking a big picture legal view of the industry, Rebecca Stamey-White, Partner at the law firm of Hinman & Carmichael LLP, went into the specifics of what legal and regulatory issues are currently top of mind for participants in the cannabis drinks category. Joined by co-speaker Charlie Cangialosi, VP of Old Pal, Stamey-White walked participants through some of the key legal issues that have thus far created new challenges for cannabis drinks brand owners.

Many participants at this year’s Cannabis Drinks Expo were, understandably, concerned about the patchwork quilt of laws and regulations for cannabis across different U.S. states. Helping to make sense of these matters, legal expert Michael Cooper, Managing Member of MadisonJay Solutions, spoke on how to develop a compliance place for the evolving world of cannabis.

Between the morning and afternoon sessions, participants milled around the active and buzzing trade show floor of the South San Francisco Conference Center. There, they could meet with a broad range of exhibitors, some of them showcasing new products that are coming to the U.S. marketplace soon.

In the afternoon, attention turned to the blurring of the line between cannabis drinks and other offerings in the food and beverage category, especially alcohol beverage products. For example, it’s now possible to find cannabis-infused wine, cannabis-infused cocktails and cannabis-infused beer – in addition to popular offerings such as cannabis-infused teas, tonics and sodas.

At the Cannabis Drinks Expo, one popular speaker was Warren Bobrow, also known as the “Cocktail Whisperer.” He gave a talk on cannabis-infused cocktails, explaining how two distinct trends – the craft cocktail trend and the cannabis drinks trend – are combining to create a new type of premium cocktail that combines craft spirits and top shelf flower.

In addition, a panel discussion led by Rachel Burkons, Co-Owner of Altered Plates, examined “the future of cannabis drinking, dining and crop-to-kitchen cuisine.” If you think that cannabis cuisine only involves cannabis cookies and brownies, think again. The same originality and creativity embraced by foodies worldwide is now being embraced by foodies with an appreciation for cannabis.

One major factor in the rapid growth of the cannabis drinks category has been the shift in the drinking patterns of young millennials. They are increasingly looking for low-alcohol or no-alcohol drinks, and this is a trend that many cannabis drinks makers are capitalizing on. As Chip Forsythe, a cannabis winemaker, pointed out at the Cannabis Drinks Expo, the future of cannabis drinks is “getting high, not stoned.” In other words, consumers are looking for recreational products that fit into a healthy, active lifestyle – like a cannabis-infused smoothie that can be enjoyed after a long workout, or simply a cannabis drink product that can be enjoyed over a long meal.

Ultimately, as Terence Donnelly, CEO of Hill Street Beverage Company, explained in one of the final presentations of the day, “the future of cannabis is in beverages.” While the edible category may get a lot of attention today, the real future is in cannabis drinks that can be consumed at any time of the day or night.

Overall, the Cannabis Drinks Expo provided a comprehensive overview of the key trends and developments in one of the nation’s fastest-growing markets. As the first-ever Cannabis Drinks Expo came to a close in the evening on July 25, there was already talk of upcoming CDE events in San Francisco and Chicago in Summer 2020.

2020 CDE Dates Are Out

The next Cannabis Drinks Expo will take place in San Francisco on July 30-31, 2020, followed by an event in Chicago on August 3, 2020. If you are interested to exhibit or attend next year’s event, pre-bookings are open with discounted rates for short span of time. Register your interest HERE. For more details, please visit the official website

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