Schroeder founded Somatik in April 2016 and recently launched a medical cannabis-infused cold brew coffee made with beans from Ritual Coffee Roasters. Each 8-ounce bottle contains 15 milligrams of THC (the psychoactive chemical component of cannabis) and retails for $12 to $14 at select dispensaries in California.
Under the mentorship and resources provided by Gateway Works, a cannabis-focused business accelerator, Schroeder began with a pilot program to see how consumers would react to a cold brew with a low dose of THC.
“I wanted to help change people’s perception of cannabis and overcome some of the existing stereotypes around it,” Schroeder told BeverageDaily.
“With the right dose and with the right type of product, cannabis is something that can be responsibly integrated into your day.”
Schroeder plans to expand Somatik’s distribution from its current five locations to roughly 300 to 400 dispensaries throughout California by the end of the year.
“I think you will start to see it [THC] in more mainstream beverages in lower doses in the same way that you see an energy drink,” he said.
Parallels between specialty coffee and cannabis
Schroeder felt that coffee was a natural entry into the cannabis industry, where he wanted to reach first-time and existing cannabis users, because he saw that both industries embraced new trends.
“I really wanted to appeal to existing coffee connoisseurs and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to work with a company like Ritual because they bring a lot of transparency to their supply chain,” he said.
Somatik cold brew coffee is also stripped of THC terpenes, the oil that gives cannabis its flavor and aroma, because he wanted consumers to enjoy the taste of the coffee.
According to Schroeder, it is easier to control the THC dosage through beverage formulations than other edibles on the market.
“You can get down to the exact milligram and you can find a dose that gives you a minimal detectable effect,” he added.
“Beverages are actually a little bit faster acting and you’re able to tell a little bit quicker if you’ve taken in the right amount.”
Future of cannabis-infused beverages
US federal law prohibits the sale of cannabis, but 27 states (including Washington D.C.) permit medical marijuana use and eight states have adopted laws legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
In late February 2017, republican Tom Garret of Virginia introduced the "Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017." If passed, marijuana would be taken off the list of federally controlled substances.
In California, it is legal to possess recreational marijuana but it will take at least another year before dispensaries can sell cannabis for recreational use, according to Schroeder.
However, Schroeder is hopeful about the future of nationwide decriminalization of cannabis because of the amount of investment being funnelled into the industry’s development.
The legal cannabis market was worth an estimated $7.2bn in 2016, marking a 30% increased since 2015, and is projected to grow at a compound CAGR of 17%. The medical cannabis market is projected to grow at 13% CAGR through 2025, increasing from $4.7bn in 2016 to an estimated $13.3bn in 2020, according to a recent report by New Frontier Data.
“Now that roughly 50% of the country has legal access to cannabis, we’re at a watershed moment where’s it going to be hard to back track on that progress especially when you see bipartisan support from citizens,” Schroeder said.