Canna Cola or Doc Weed? Pot soda generates buzz

SANTA CRUZ, California

The label reads 100% hippie, 0% gangsta -- and 37 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

"Well, it's going to be your basic soda stuff -- sugar, water, carbonation, some coloring, but you know, the secret sauce of course will be THC," said Clay Butler.

Butler is the Santa Cruz County man behind Canna Cola -- the pot soda primed to launch in Colorado, California, Arizona, and anywhere medical marijuana is available.

It's not the first pot soda on the market -- Dixie Elixirs is already on sale in Colorado and you can buy Big Shirley's Sodas at Fresno County collectives.

But in his first television interview, Butler told Action News Canna Cola is positioned to be the biggest of the bunch.

"It has just captured people's imagination," he said. "We have major players in all the major states, ready to go."

The marketing infrastructure is already set up and the demand is definitely there, but because of differing state laws restricting the use of marijuana, the bottles are still empty.

Lenient marijuana laws in Colorado make it the drink's first destination. California would be next, but U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D) CA, is pushing a bill to stop distribution before it starts. Her so-called "Brownie Law" would outlaw all edible marijuana products.

Fresno County narcotics officers say they're probably already illegal.

"The minute it becomes a commercial venture and for profit, it becomes illegal," said Fresno County sheriff's Capt. Jose Flores.

But collectives are run as non-profits and medical marijuana patients say they're getting real benefits from edibles, including pot soda.

Therese is a breast cancer patient who gets free edibles from EarthSource in Fresno County. She says marijuana lets her sleep, gives her an appetite, allows her to cut her use of narcotics in half, and relieves the pain from her chemotherapy.

"I notice with the edibles, you get more of a whole body high so that's what gets rid of a lot of the chemo pain, the bone pain you get," she said.

And, she says, eating the drug avoids the damage smoking can do to her body.

But even Kelle McLaughlin, who suffers from a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis, says a 12-ounce pot soda may not be the best edible treatment for his ailments.

"I can't drink a lot of liquid, as well as I can't eat a lot of food," he said.

And then there's the colorful bottles with the bubbly logo. Feinstein says her bill is aimed at protecting children from that type of marketing.

"We must do everything we can to end the practice of purposely altering illegal drugs to make them more appealing to our youth," she said in a statement about the "Brownie Law."

The executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws agrees.

"The responsible manufacturer and marketers need to make the packaging clearly marked and hard to enter," said Allen St. Pierre in a statement to Action News.

Canna Cola's label includes a large "Adults Only" warning and Butler says it will definitely be difficult for children to find.

"This is in a dispensary," he said. "They have no access to it and they never will, so I don't understand the problem."

"Those people who market that need to know that if it is an attractive nuisance and their product is getting into the hands of children, we will hold them accountable," said Flores, the sheriff's captain.

Pharmacologists say this new form of intoxicating soda is less dangerous than the recently banned Four Loko. Investigators have blamed that drink's mixture of alcohol and caffeine for several cases of alcohol poisoning. Pharmacologists say even a high dose of THC will, at worst, make you sick to your stomach.

The drink destined for these colorful bottles could potentially pack a punch equivalent to that of smoking a full marijuana joint, and then another one, and half of a third. But butler says he might reduce the THC total below the 37 milligrams listed on the label. He wants a clean operation, above scrutiny.

So, Canna Cola might beat a ban and make it to market, but it's already opened a new can -- of worms.

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