The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), the leading organization representing the $2.7 billion legal U.S. cannabis (marijuana) industry at the federal level, hosted its third annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo June 21-22, 2016 in Oakland, Calif. Drawing some 250 cannabis industry professionals, the meeting showcased hands-on workshops, invited speakers, a tradeshow, and local cannabis related facility tours. Topics covered included best practices for maintaining a sustainable cannabis business, investment opportunities, and updates on relevant cannabis policy issues.
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After the event, Food Quality & Safety reached out to some summit attendees and asked for any updates about what, specifically, the cannabis industry is doing to ensure the safety status of cannabis foods, which are more commonly known as edibles. Such products are made with an herbal or resin form of cannabis as an ingredient.
These foods are consumed as an alternate means to experience the effects of cannabinoids without smoking or vaporizing cannabis flower, hash, or other concentrates and extracts. Cannabis is sometimes used to reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, to improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and to treat chronic pain.
“The cannabis industry is currently quite fragmented, and regulations are in development at various stages throughout the country, making this particular time one of unique growth in a booming industry,” says Julianna Carella, founder and CEO of the edibles company named Auntie Dolores Every Day Edibles, Oakland, Calif.
Carella serves on the board of the California Cannabis Industry Association, which is the California affiliate of the NCIA. “Each state has its own association that is working on local cannabis laws, while NCIA is focused on federal law,” Carella explains.
Some states are ahead of others with regard to cannabis regulations, Carella relates. “Colorado is ahead of California, even though California has the longest existing and largest cannabis industry,” she points out. “Colorado has instituted regulations and edibles producers are bound by all the same laws that other food producers are. Their facilities are inspected, their products are lab-tested, and products that do not pass state government inspections are pulled from cannabis dispensary shelves.”
Along with Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, plus the District of Columbia, Colorado has legalized marijuana for adult recreational use (in addition to medical use).
As of July 1, 2016, 25 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana.
Carella emphasizes that many states, California included, have a long way to go to insure the health and safety of cannabis patients and enthusiasts, as manufacturing and cultivation are still not licensed professions in the industry, meaning anyone can produce edibles and flower in any environment. “The need for sensible regulations that producers can abide by and that will keep customers safe is long overdue,” she says, “especially in states like California, where 100 percent of everything seen on dispensary shelves is created on the black market. Regulators in states that wish to ban edibles only invite more black market activity, thereby decreasing the likelihood of safety measures and standard operating procedures becoming commonplace.”
The need for more standardized cannabis edibles testing is also noteworthy, Carella adds, as producers must be able to rely on the information from the labs testing their edibles. “Many California producers lab test their products regularly, even though there are no laws currently requiring this,” she notes.
Edibles manufacturers who are operating with patient and consumer wellbeing in mind take a number of measures to ensure their edibles are safe, going above and beyond regulatory standards for testing and compliance, says Jaime Lewis, founder and CEO of edibles manufacturer Mountain Medicine, Denver, Colo.
“I test all of the trim that comes into my kitchen for contaminants, including medical trim, which is not legally required to be tested,” Lewis says, explaining that trim is the cannabis plant product used to produce edibles, such as leaves, buds, and whole plant matter left over from the process of cutting buds for flower. “I also spend significant time working on research and development to ensure that consumers and patients get a consistent dosage experience every time,” she adds.
In Colorado, edibles manufacturers work closely with regulators and community groups to create and promote public safety initiatives like Good to Know and the Start Low Go Slow campaign that educates consumers on safe edibles consumption.
“We are also coming together as an industry to create unified recommendations for safe, responsible regulations nationwide,” Lewis says. “One example is the Infused Products Council (IPC) collaboration with the Council on Responsible Cannabis Legislation.”
“We are working together on a new, collaborative National Packaging and Labeling Standards Committee (NPLSC) that draws insights and best practices from industry leaders and outside experts to create legislative recommendations for realistic compliance measures that protect consumers,” Lewis adds, noting that she is a member of both the IPC and the NPLSC.