For the uninitiated, eating a marijuana-infused edible may invoke an intense, overwhelming episode if overdone.
For others like Rodger Voelker, who says he’s only touched marijuana “with gloves on,” edibles represent a more disconcerting experience that lasts longer than a few hours.
“I can’t think of any commodity in the modern market that is even close to the complexity of this one,” said Voelker, lab director of Oregon Growers Analytical. “There is no precedent in this country for delivering a medicine – a pharmaceutical – in high doses in cake, ice cream, in root beer,” he said.
2016 will be a pivotal year for Eugene’s marijuana edible producers and cannabis analysis labs, like OG Analytical, which will go through rigorous licensing from Oregon state agencies. Before this year, these businesses have been operating without established industry standards. These new regulations arrive before edibles reach the recreational marketplace, with Oregon Liquor Control Commission-licensed dispensaries opening late this year.
By June 1 this year, labs will have to meet new accreditation standards from the Oregon Health Authority. There are no verified procedures for testing potency in marijuana products.
“You could declare today that you’re a lab and issue certificates,” said Voelker, who says Senate Bill 3460, which established these labs, was too vague. “No one will check. You don’t have to do any testing or anything. There’s no stipulations or requirements. Zero.”
Voelker received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Oregon in 1996. He analyzes marijuana samples for quality control, including the levels of any pesticides, mildew, mold and active chemicals, like CBD or THC at his lab in west Eugene. This data ultimately informs the labels on bottles and packages when cannabis is sold at dispensaries.
OG Analytical has developed two sufficient methods for analyzing THC potency in the countless strains of marijuana out there.
However, edible analysis varies from item to item. It’s a different process for ice cream, soda, pizza, beef jerky or anything else that comes through the lab — where the THC compound is separated from everything else in the product. The process for looking at a peanut butter cookie may be totally inapplicable for a chocolate chip cookie.
New standards for edible labeling and packaging take effect on April 1. The packaging must be resealable, opaque and child-resistant.
On Oct. 1, licensing from the health authority takes effect for Oregon’s medical edible producers, which will need to operate from a commercial kitchen registered for medical marijuana production. In other words, any business that wants to make edibles for both medical and recreational markets will have to do so from two separately licensed kitchens from the OHA and OLCC, respectively, as per state law.
“Everything about my business is going to change completely in the year 2016,” said David McNicoll, owner of the Eugene-based Dave’s Space Cakes: home of the gluten-free, cannabis-infused chocolate mini-cupcake. “It’s going to be a monumental task to go from where I am now, to having a commercial kitchen facility that fills all the requirements.”
McNicoll is the chair of the Oregon Responsible Edibles Council, a trade association to represent Oregon’s small, independently owned edible-producing businesses. The council plans to start a public education campaign to encourage first-time edible users to take it slow and “Try 5.” As in, try 5 mg. This is intended to dissuade new consumers from overindulging on a potent marijuana-infused chocolate bar.
The state of Oregon determines 5 mg of THC as one dose and an edible package cannot contain more than 50 mg total, which is half the legal recreational dose in both Colorado and Washington. McNicoll said that the OHA is reluctant to raise the cannabis dose to 10 mg in an effort to prevent children from an accidental ingestion or overdose.
If the dose remains at a low 5 mg, the alternative for patients will be to consume multiple products in order to achieve the same medical effect.
“There’s nothing to stop people from eating two or three chocolate bars,” said McNicoll, “but it’s a very questionable stance coming from the OHA to be promoting obesity.”
Echo Electuary, based in west Eugene, is one such business represented within OREC, operated by UO graduates Ross Mills and Regan O’Reilly. The business will seek licensing from both the health authority and liquor commission this year.
Echo Electuary was recently granted a land-use compatibility statement from the city of Eugene, which allows it to grow marijuana crops on-site. The business makes honey sticks, honey-ginger chews and a cinnamon-cacao honey spread, all infused with THC, CBD or some combination of the two.
Mills cares for her own beehives and extracts the honey for the electuaries. She keeps an herb garden on their site where she grows thyme, rosemary, sage, peppermint, basil, lemon balm and lavender. She’s experimenting with new flavor combinations for their honey sticks, like vanilla-bean espresso, maple-thyme and turmeric-cardamom.
License fees from the health agency and liquor control commission total nearly $14,000, plus the estimated cost to outfit a commercial kitchen that meets the requirements: roughly $40,000 — significant investments for a small business.
“Building one [commercial kitchen] is expensive right now,” said O’Reilly, Echo Electuary’s production manager who creates cannabis oil extractions for the products. “It’s pretty prohibitive to build two [kitchens] for any small business.”
Despite the expensive price tag on licensing, Oregon State Senator Floyd Prozanski says public safeguards are there for a reason; any industry that offers a commodity for leisure ought to meet some consumer-quality standards.
“I want to make certain that we don’t over-standardize or overregulate it and increase the cost of production to the point where these smaller businesses aren’t able to make ends meet,” he said.
Mills says the proposed regulations are so overprotective that the idea of maintaining a profitable, legal business while competing with black market prices is going to be difficult.
“There’s so much momentum for [small business owners] today. Everything is based on relationships, trust and quality products,” said Mills. “Overnight things are changing in this industry; there are going to be changes forever. How is one supposed to stay adaptable and alive?”
This divide between OHA and OLCC facilities will likely be reevaluated in the Oregon State Senate this February.
“It’s becoming burdensome and there’s no real legitimate reason for it to be two separate [kitchens],” said Sen. Prozanski, who called these early changes within the industry’s development “growing pains.”
But Voelker at OG Analytical says the cannabis industry’s growth doesn’t need to be complicated; he alludes to other standards in pharmaceutical, alcohol and tobacco industries that could be adopted for this industry.
“We don’t have to keep reinventing things,” he said. “With all that said, the one I have the hardest time seeing how it fits would be edibles. Where does that fit? I can’t think of any commodity that comes close.”
This story was originally published for The Daily Emerald on January 6, 2016 at http://www.dailyemerald.com/2016/01/06/the-future-of-oregons-cannabis-cuisine/
More stories I’ve written for the Emerald can be found here.