By Gillian Flaccus

The Associated Press

The Coca-Cola Co. said Monday it is “closely watching” the expanding use of a cannabis element in drinks, another sign cannabis and cannabis-infused products are getting more acceptance in mainstream culture and a harder look from long-established pillars of American business.

The statement came after reports the beverage giant was in talks with a Canadian cannabis company to create a health drink infused with cannabidiol, a naturally occurring nonpsychoactive compound derived from the cannabis plant. Shares of the company, Aurora Cannabis Inc., closed up nearly 17 percent on the Toronto Stock Exchange after the report.

Spokespeople for the companies declined to comment on the report but acknowledged their interest in that segment of the cannabis market.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, does not produce the high commonly associated with marijuana. It is believed by many to have anti-inflammation and pain-relieving properties, and numerous CBD-infused products have emerged recently.

Aurora spokeswoman Heather MacGregor said her company “has expressed specific interest in the infused-beverage space and we intend to enter that market.”

A Coke spokesman said the beverage giant has made no such decision.

“Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of nonpsychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly,” Coke spokesman Kent Landers said.

Coke’s interest is another indication of the growing acceptance of cannabis by established companies and of the importance of Canada to the development of those businesses. Marijuana becomes legal across Canada on Oct. 17. Cannabis companies from the U.S. — where marijuana remains illegal at the federal level — have flocked to Canada to raise funds and establish businesses there.

American companies interested in making a play in the cannabis space can try things out in Canada without risking doing something illegal at home.

Constellation Brands, a giant spirits company that counts Corona beer among its labels, bought a multibillion-dollar minority stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian medical marijuana producer.

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