Photo Courtesy of New Belgium

We're not in Colorado anymore

Mike Pomranz
April 04, 2018

In the already contentious debate over the legal status of marijuana, hemp in particular has always been a major flashpoint. Hemp is only guilty by association, defendants of the cannabis variety argue, since unlike other cannabis plants, hemp is grown for purposes that are more important than getting people high. Still, since marijuana and hemp are the same species, hemp has often found itself banned as well—including in the eyes of the DEA. That longstanding bias is now being applied, at least by one stated, to a hemp beer recently released by Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company. The brand’s new Hemperor HPA has been approved for sale across the United States, but the state of Kansas has stepped in to prevent the brew from being sold within its borders.

That’s not to say that getting Hemperor approved in the first place was an easy task. As the Denver Post’s dedicated marijuana site the Cannabist explains, New Belgium had to use a bit of a “work-around” to get this “hemp pale ale” (as the HPA part stands for) past the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) which oversees such matters. Instead of using any controlled substances, the brewery uses a mix of hemp hearts, a part of the plant that was specifically legalized in the 2014 Farm Bill, and hemp-mimicking terpene compounds produced through a proprietary process.

Those roundabout methods were reportedly good enough to gain federal approval from the TTB, but the Attorney General of Kansas still wasn’t having any of it. “Because the beer had a trace of hemp in it, it is not allowed in Kansas, and the registration request was denied pursuant to an opinion issued by the Kansas Attorney General,” Rachel Whitten, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, told the Cannabist. Talk about a buzzkill.

At this point, however, New Belgium probably isn’t as worried about Kansas as Kansas is worried about hemp beer. The brewery had to jump through plenty of hoops—including having its initial formulation rejected—to get its beer approved by the TBB and is happy to have gotten approval from more than zero states. “Certainly, we took quite a bit of time just to actually get it right and actually get it to scale,” Ross Koenigs, New Belgium’s research and development specialist, was quoted as saying. “(It was) close to nine months to a year to make sure the brewing technicals were all buttoned up.” Not that Kansas would appreciate such efforts.

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