Pot Topics is a weekly collection of cannabis-related news curated by the Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s this week’s top stories:

  • Liquor distribution company helmed by Blackhawks owner invests in marijuana company
  • House Judiciary Committee backs bill to expand pot research
  • Jimmy Buffett, Wrigley heir announce joint cannabis venture
  • Hemp-derived CBD industry expected to boom.

Wirtz-led alcohol distribution group pours millions into Canadian pot company

Chicago Blackhawks owner and chairman Rocky Wirtz. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Breakthru Beverage, the alcohol distribution group led in part by Blackhawks owner and chairman Rocky Wirtz, has invested over $9 million in a leading Canadian pot producer.

Ontario-based CannTrust Holdings announced the partnership with Breakthru on Monday. Rocky Wirtz serves as the booze broker’s co-chairman, while his son Danny Wirtz is the company’s vice-chairman.

Breakthru, which is based in Cicero and New York City, will serve as the exclusive distributor of CannTrust’s products when Canada legalizes marijuana for adult use next month. As part of the deal, Breakthru plans to create a pot-centric sales brokerage operation to work with local regulatory boards in Canada, much like the company does with alcohol.

“We’re excited to work with the most respected producer in Canada and leverage our well-established business model, which will put us at the forefront of shaping a high performing organization and socially responsible industry,” Danny Wirtz said in a news release. “This is a logical extension of our expertise and provides a new growth opportunity into this emerging market.”

But Breakthru isn’t the only liquor company wading into the Canadian cannabis industry. 

In August, Constellation Brands — the beer and liquor giant that makes Corona and Modelo Beers and Svedka vodka — invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth, upping its stake in the largest pot producer in the Canada. 

MillerCoors Brewing also started experimenting with pot last month, entering into a joint partnership with The Hydropothecary Corporation, another Canadian marijuana producer, according to CNBC. MillerCoors is now developing non-alcoholic, pot-infused beverages that will be sold in The Great White North after the drug is legalized.

In the news release, CannTrust President Brad Rogers said his company was also crafting beverages laced with grass.

“We have nano-technology that enables us to produce cannabis infused beverages neutral in taste, and clear as water,” Rogers said. “This technology will position us to be a leader in Canada, and in future markets globally.”

House committee moves Medical Cannabis Research Act

Lead grower Dave Wilson cares for marijuana plants in the “Flower Room” at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion. | AP Photo

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday that would require the Department of Justice to dole out more licenses to researchers studying medical cannabis.

The bill, named the Medical Cannabis Research Act, aims to encourage federally-approved clinical trials examining the potential medical effects of chemicals found in pot.

“For too long, Congress has faced a dilemma with cannabis-related legislation: we cannot reform cannabis law without researching its safety, its efficacy, and its medical uses — but we cannot perform this critical research without first reforming cannabis law,” The bill’s sponsor, Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, said in a statement after the vote.

“The Medical Cannabis Research Act helps break that log jam, allowing researchers to study medical cannabis without fear of legal jeopardy,” Gaetz added.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, members of the committee sparred over language in the bill that prohibits felons and people convicted of a “drug-related misdemeanor” from being affiliated with the marijuana research and cultivation efforts. 

The measure was ultimately approved after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., pledged to revisit the caveat before the bill is moved to the House floor.

Jimmy Buffett teams with pot company headed by Wrigley heir

Jimmy Buffett photographed at the Broadway Playhouse in July 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett is creating a new brand of medical pot for Surterra Wellness, the Atlanta-based cannabis company company led by former Wrigley Company CEO William “Beau” Wrigley.

The partnership will develop a line of cannabis products under Buffett’s Coral Reefer brand, a nod to his backing band of the same name.

“Finally, ‘the time has come,’ as the Walrus said,” Buffett said in a news release. “The time being the long overdue recognition of the numerous healing properties of cannabis.”

“I have followed and studied with keen intensity the recent evolvement of the medical marijuana story and the path towards the simple common-sense conclusion that cannabis is good medicine and should be made available to all who need it,” the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” singer added.

For now, Buffett’s pot products will be sold at Surterra’s existing medical dispensaries in Florida. However, Surterra has also been licensed to grow and sell medical pot in Texas, and the company plans to expand to more states.

Last month, Wrigley was named board chairman of the company after leading a $65 million fundraising round. During his time at Wrigley, which was founded by his great grandfather, the company acquired Altoids and Life Savers before being sold in 2008 to Virginia-based Mars, the makers of Snickers, Twix and other popular candies. 

Buffett’s larger company, also named Coral Reefer, manages Margaritaville Holdings, which includes 14 lodging locations, four gaming properties and 60 bars and restaurants. In a statement, Wrigley credited Buffet for building brands “that are widely admired and recognized around the world.” 

Hemp-based CBD industry could exceed $20 billion by 2022

Workers process the hemp harvest last week at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Washington planted the crop himself in the 18th century. | AP Photo/Matthew Barakat

Workers process the hemp harvest last week at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. | AP Photo/Matthew Barakat

A new study predicts the market for hemp-derived CBD could eclipse the rest of the legal cannabis industry to reach $22 billion by 2022.

The prospective figure hinges on Congress passing the 2018 Farm Bill, a measure that would legalize industrial hemp across the country, according to the study conducted by pot industry analysts the Brightfield Group.

CBD — or cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating form of cannabis — has grown increasingly popular in recent years, with users reporting that it can treat a range of medical conditions without creating the stony effects associated with THC, or psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol.

CBD has been widely available in Illinois since pot was legalized under the state’s medical cannabis pilot program in 2015. Marijuana-based CBD, which typically contains higher levels of THC, is available to medical cannabis patients at dispensaries across the state, while hemp-based CBD products can be bought over-the-counter at various wellness centers and bong shops. 

Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed off on the Industrial Hemp Act, which legalized industrial hemp cultivation in the state and established rules for THC-level testing of crops.

This year, the hemp-based CBD market is primed to reach $591 million, according to the Brightfield Group.

Upcoming cannabis events in the Chicago area

  • Sept. 17 to 19: Evolve hosts a series of CBD oil tastings at 54 N. Williams St. in Crystal Lake.
  • Sept. 22: Modern Cannabis hosts a “Get a Card” event at Emporium Wicker Park, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave.
  • Sept. 22: Evolve hosts a CBD oil tasting at 54 N. Williams St. in Crystal Lake.
  • Sept. 23: The Midwest Compassion Center hosts its monthly patient social and offers application assistance at 721 N. Independence Blvd. in Romeoville. 
  • Sept. 24: Arlington Heights Memorial Library offers medical cannabis application assistance at 500 N. Dunton Ave. in Arlington Heights.

Send any pot-related tips or comments to tschuba@suntimes.com.

Here’s some of the Sun-Times’ other cannabis coverage