Dec 10, 2023 - Business

Chicago liquor stores are selling THC-infused drinks

Photo of six packs of cans on a counter
WYNK six-packs. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

THC drinks are hitting the shelves at Chicago liquor stores due to a legal loophole.

Why it matters: Chicagoans are able to pick up six-packs of THC seltzers outside of a licensed dispensary, as local business owners cash in on the buzzy beverage trend.

State of play: THC seltzer brand WYNK has secured a deal with Louis Glunz, a beer distributor active in Chicago for over 100 years.

  • The distributor has helped stock the drinks in several Chicago liquor stores, including Binny's and Garfield's.

What they're saying: "As a guy [who] came through the craft beer wave, this feels very familiar to me," Phil McFarland, Wherehouse Beverage Company's general manager of THC Beverages, tells Axios.

  • "In five years or so, this is going to be as pervasive and accepted as craft beer has become."

McFarland would know, having previously worked for Chicago's beloved Half Acre Beer.

The intrigue: WYNK has been around since 2021, but it's had a hard time cashing in at local dispensaries. So the company reformulated its drinks to use hemp-derived THC, which makes it legal to sell in liquor stores under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Context: Hemp and marijuana are different types of cannabis. Both have the active ingredient THC, the compound that gets users high. But hemp has much less THC than marijuana, leading to its declassification as a schedule I drug.

  • "It takes us a hay bale of hemp biomass to extract the same amount of THC, whereas it would take a single marijuana plant for a dispensary."

The big picture: States like Minnesota are already selling THC seltzers in liquor stores. Minnesota has the nation's most lenient laws for selling edible and drinkable THC, reports Axios Twin Cities' Nick Halter.

  • The rest of the country is watching the Twin Cities closely, says Max Johnson of BevSource, a Minnesota-based beverage consultancy. Johnson tells Axios that selling THC drinks in liquor stores removes the stigma and hurdles that come with buying from a dispensary.

The bottom line: At a downtown Chicago liquor store, WYNK cans are sold on a small end-stand away from the large beer aisles. A six-pack of 7.5-ounce cans goes for $19.99.

  • "We are trying to create an adult beverage category really from whole cloth," says McFarland.

What's next: The state is watching closely. There could be legislative movement to strengthen or relax the current cannabis laws in Illinois.

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