Why SA police tried to ban the country's first legal cannabis-infused beer

A few months ago, South Africa’s beer scene had a historic first. Poison City Brewing released Durban Poison, the first legal cannabis-infused lager and mainstream media took notice.

In just a few short weeks they racked up a staggering amount of media interest. The reception was positive and many saw it as a big leap in the right direction as the world’s opinion on cannabis is changing. Some, on the other hand (I’m looking at you SAPS), weren’t so excited but we’ll get to that in a bit. 

Cannabis beers like Durban Poison are brewed using hemp seeds. While hemp seeds are part of the cannabis family, they only contain trace amounts (0.3%) of THC which is the stuff that gets you high. THC rich cannabis, weed or ganja is a completely different plant.

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The beer launched shortly after the Constitutional Court decision that effectively decriminalised the private use of cannabis in South Africa. The seeds themselves are rather tasty and they’re really good for you. They contain loads of essential amino acids, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and they’ve even been hailed as a new superfood. 

Despite all the positives, education around the differences between hemp and weed is murky. In Hermanus and Bredasdorp in the Western Cape, the cops began harassing liquor stores demanding that the lager be removed. They claimed that it was illegal even after Poison City owner, Graeme Bird explained that it was 100% legal and stocked around the country.

Despite the facts, the police persisted. It eventually took lawyers getting involved and serious amounts of fees before they backed down. Poison City has always had in-your-face attitude and respect to them for walking the talk when it counted.

So with all this talk of hemp seeds, what do they actually bring to the beer?

Well, the seeds have a tasty, nutty flavour which has been described as somewhere between a sunflower seed and a pine nut. This flavour profile should complement the toasted malt character of the beer which is a little ironic considering cannabis and hops are related. It also has spicy and grassy notes from the hops and it’s an overall great session lager.

I must admit that in the beer nerd circles, there were discussions regarding the flavour impact of the hemp seeds. Regardless of whichever side of the fence you fall on, the brew is a progressive step forward for South Africa. 

Poison City has done an excellent job laying the groundwork for future hemp infused products. Sure they probably agitated the police with their overt branding and references to Durban Poison, Durban’s most famous weed strain, but one could argue that they were just ahead of the curve.

As of a few days ago, hemp cannabidiol or CBD oil which is also a non-psychoactive product was made legal in South Africa. CBD oil is purported to have a wide range of health benefits and I don’t think it will be long until we see a CBD infused beer on our shelves.  

If you want to get your hands on a cannabis-infused brew then keep an eye out at most good bottle stores. Poison City’s Cannabis Lager is available nationwide and up Jozi way, Mad Giant’s Super Session Cannabis Ale is available.

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