The happy duo of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (better known to snackers as the men behind Ben & Jerry's ice cream) fired a shot heard around the pot world a few days ago when they endorsed the idea of cannabis-infused ice cream.
Appearing on HuffPost Live, Cohen said the idea of a marijuana-infused flavor "makes sense to me. [You could] combine your pleasures." Greenfield was a bit more judicious in his response, but hardly dismissed the idea. "Ben and I have had previous experiences with [pause] substances," he said. "I think legalizing marijuana is a wonderful thing."
But just how likely is it that we'll be seeing a Ben & Jerry's flavor like Reefer Rum or Cheeba Cherry in the freezer case anytime soon? Well, for now, not very likely—but not out of the question, either.
"It wouldn't be out of line with their brand," observes Jennifer DeFalco, creative director and co-founder of Denver-based Cannabrand, a marijuana-focused branding and marketing firm. "They already have flavors like Half Baked and Satisfy My Bowl."
Questioned about the possibility of a pot flavor, Ben & Jerry's spokesperson Kelly Mohr told Adweek that "Ben & Jerry's hasn't given serious consideration to the possibility of cannabis-infused ice cream," but added, "Perhaps it's high time."
Plenty of partakers certainly think so. "This is way awesome!" said one commenter on High Times' site, which gave the video prominent play. Added another: "I really want some…Kroger should get on this."
Certainly there'd be customers for such a product. Some 24 million Americans say they use pot on a semi-regular basis, and a 2013 survey conducted by YouGov found that 26 percent of respondents said they'd consider buying and trying it if it were legal in the state they live in. What's more, edibles are an increasingly popular way to consume the herb. A report on cannabis consumption issued last year by the Colorado Department of Revenue found that "there is a slow but steady shift away from the traditional method of consuming marijuana—smoking it—to new delivery methods." (Making cannabis ice cream isn't rocket science, either. Here's a recipe for Mint Chocolate Cannabis.)
So what's the hold-up? Well, first, while Ben and Jerry might have founded Ben & Jerry's, the pair have no say in what the brand does anymore. The pair sold their interest to Unilever, the British-Dutch consumer goods conglomerate, as part of a 2000 deal valued at $326 million. Greenfield seemed to lament his lame-duck status in the HuffPost interview. A cannabis flavor, he said, "is not my decision. If it were my decision I'd be doing it. But fortunately we have wiser heads at the company that figure those things out. We actually don't run anything."
What's more, if Unilever did decide to get into cannabis, it would have to accept the kind of restrictions that few international consumer-packaged-goods brands want to deal with. Unless Ben & Jerry's introduced a medicinal ice-cream product (not terribly likely), its U.S. market would be restricted to states where recreational pot use is legal. And so far, that's only Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. That's why there are plenty of local pot brands in these states, but no major national players yet.
What's more, grocery stores couldn't stock the stuff, only licensed dispensaries, and Unilever would have to manufacture each state's ice-cream batch within that state, since it's illegal to transport cannabis across state borders. Finally, there's the significant problem of a mainstream brand turning off more conservative consumers by offering a product that many still see as an illegal drug.
"I'm not so sure that Unilever can take that risk," DeFalco said. "It might not be the right brand." Still, she added, "It's a huge market, so it could make sense."
It could. After all, Ben & Jerry's corporate site does say its mission is to make the finest quality ice cream "and euphoric concoctions."