Colorado Takes the Lead in Safety of Marijuana-Infused Food Production

In the absence of federal regulations for the safe production of food products that include marijuana, the state of Colorado is at the forefront of setting its own regulations. Colorado voters agreed to legalize recreational marijuana in November 2013, and now it falls to the state’s Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division to ensure that food made with this ingredient is safe for human consumption.

Complicating the process are federal laws that deem marijuana use illegal. Although the federal government requires that food manufacturers produce food that is safe, the eventual role of the FDA in enforcing federal standards of food safety for products that include THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant, is unclear.

Without federal oversight, Colorado has proceeded with writing its own regulations and enforcement standards, beginning with those that ensure the safety of marijuana seed and with setting up a tracking system that can be used if an illness such as salmonellosis is attributed to a specific marijuana-infused product.

Lewis Koski, appointed chief of the new Marijuana Enforcement Division in January, said in a recent interview that the effort to draft regulations has included all concerned stakeholders of “every possible opinion, background, and interest in this public policy.” Speaking with Harvest Public Media in Colorado, Mr. Koski added that “the right thing to do from a regulatory standpoint is to make sure we can comprehensively regulate these businesses [that produce marijuana-infused food products] and ensure the health and welfare of the citizens of the state of Colorado.”

Effective March 2, the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s Permanent Retail Marijuana Rules apply to retail manufacturing facilities that use marijuana in food production. These rules mandate that the owners or licensees of such facilities complete a food safety course that includes information about foodborne illnesses, personal hygiene, and food handling practices, sanitization, and other relevant topics. These facilities are subject to inspection for health and safety concerns, and they must comply with kitchen-related standards of the relevant local jurisdiction and to the food and safety regulations of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that are applicable to retail food establishments.

Additionally, the new regulations permit the Marijuana Enforcement Division to require that a facility submit a test batch of food samples for compliance verification, to perform an investigation, or to address a public safety concern. A provision of the regulations that will become effective July 1 sets requirements governing mandatory testing of samples from a retail marijuana cultivation facility or a retail marijuana product manufacturing facility.


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