With the legalization of pot in Colorado earlier this year, cannabis edibles are all the rage, but with increasing numbers of overdose cases occurring, pot shops are starting to distribute instructions with their products. Regulators concerned with overdoses and child resistant packaging drafted an emergency rule on Aug. 1 that requires limiting serving sizes to 100 milligrams of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) per product, along with better packing and warning labels.
Lewis Koski, Colorado’s marijuana enforcement director, says adding more information on packages of edibles is not likely to increase safety, questioning how much of the increasing numbers of warnings consumers are likely to read. In the meantime, some pot shops are taking matters into their own hands and beginning to hand out edible education cards with each purchase, as well as walking purchasers carefully through what an appropriate dose of the product they are buying looks like.
Organic Alternatives is a recreational and medical marijuana store in Ft. Collins, Co. Budtender Brendon Greney works behind the counter and says most people are not reading the labels on packaging. He views himself as an educator, answering questions and instructing people on the edibles they are purchasing. The shop has been getting questions from customers worldwide. They have had visitors from all seven continents since opening in June, 2014.
Maka Kalai, Organic Alternatives manager, says “it’s really our job and responsibility to educate them and let them know, this is a lot different than what your friends made in the ‘60s.” This is why the shop hands out edibles education cards with every purchase that tell consumers to “start low and go slow.”
Denver’s Julie and Kate Baked Goods sells THC-infused granola. The Colorado store also hands out instruction cards with their cannabis edibles. Director of marketing Monique Nobil says it is in the best interest of manufacturers to make sure consumers have a good first-time experience.
Training classes are mandatory for marijuana edibles preparers. ServSafe trainer Maureen McNamara teaches classes on food safety rules such as hand washing and proper temperatures, but now also teaches in-store education for pot distributors. Products must be tested for potency, foodborne pathogens and molds.
Potency and overconsumption remains a problem, as does children getting ahold of the product. The instruction cards increasingly being handed out by stores with their cannabis edibles seeks to avoid these situations. In May, Colorado started mandatory potency testing of edibles, hoping to bring predictable doses to servings. There is also the factor of time. Edibles may take as long as two hours to take effect, and people who are used to smoking rather than eating may continue to munch due to thinking they have not had enough.
Making a consistent product is difficult, especially when the THC may not be evenly infused throughout the product. In a 6-serving package the amount may vary with each serving. Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer for Dixie Elixers and Edibles, says since it is plant matter it is inconsistent. He says if you cut a marijuana candy bar in half the amount of THC in each half is not going to be hugely different, but the sides will not be identical. This is more of a problem when there are 10 servings in one bar.
With concerns of overindulgence, Colorado producers of cannabis edibles are beginning to cut back on potency. For example, making sodas that contain only 5 milligrams of THC so that one bottle is one serving rather than 15. Some lawmakers in Colorado argue that this kind of lower potency should be mandatory, capping all edibles at 10 milligrams of THC, one-tenth of current levels. However, this means that edible manufacturers would have to redesign every part of their production process.
In the meantime, many Colorado stores will continue to distribute instructions with their cannabis edibles and try to get people to give the products the respect they deserve. Hodas says they want people to understand that these are products that demand respect, even though they look like regular foods and beverages.
By Beth A. Balen