Imagine being informed by your local city health department that you are not allowed to include a nutrition facts label on the popular products you make and sell for human consumption. Julianna Carella faced that very problem relative to gourmet snack items she produces at her Oakland, Calif.-based business, Auntie Dolores Kitchen.
“In 2010 the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) told us we had to take the nutrition label off our products,” says Carella, the company’s founder and CEO.
To be sure, Part 101 – Food Labeling of Title 21 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Subchapter B holds no authority over any Auntie Dolores commercial offering.
Imagine further that, even though you’re clearly turning out pretzels, assorted cookies, glazed pecans, chili lime peanuts, cheese biscuits, caramel corn, and fudge brownies for retail sales, your manufacturing facilities and products are not subject to any state or federal food laws, regulations, or inspections. Not for now, anyway.
You see, most all of Carella’s eye-catching goodies contain cannabis, a.k.a. marijuana, a regulated Schedule I (a.k.a. Class I) narcotic.
Cannabis is sometimes used to reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, to improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and to treat chronic pain. Knowing this, the aforementioned company name makes total sense. Carella is quick to clarify that, no, she doesn’t have a dear, beloved aunt named Dolores. Rather, she explains, Auntie Dolores is a play on “anti dolores,” with “anti” meaning against and “dolores” being the Spanish word for pains.
When it comes to the $2.7 billion legal U.S. cannabis industry, local, state, and federal laws often conflict, Carella says. “Regulation is disjointed,” she emphasizes. “The right hand isn’t talking to the left hand. So regulations, often the lack thereof, are a major challenge.
“Since the beginning of our business, which was in 2008, our products have not been considered food, nor have they been considered medicine,” Carella continues. “They are just considered cannabis.”
That’s why the SFDPH forced Auntie Dolores to remove the nutrition labels.
“We urged the SFDPH to allow us to keep the labels because sick people eat our products, including diabetics and cancer patients with specific dietary needs, and they need to be able to read and understand what exactly is in them to get the appropriate dose of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary active substance in cannabis,” Carella relates. Most importantly, a scrupulous cannabis product label will include the THC content in milligrams (mg).
Cannabis foods, more commonly known as edibles, 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 or hashish.
Like many edibles manufacturers, Auntie Dolores utilizes carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction, often referred to as supercritical fluid extraction, as the method of procuring cannabis concentrate for its products. “CO2 extraction is considered the most effective way to extract beneficial essences from plant matter,” Carella points out.
The forward-thinking Carella says that, along with being one of the first edibles companies in California, Auntie Dolores was the first such Golden State entity to put a nutrition label on its products. “We convinced our city health department to allow us to leave the labels on because we feel consumers have the right to know this information,” she relates.
The label issue was resolved within three months, Carella reports, emphasizing her respect for the SFDPH. “The SFDPH has always been very proactive since San Francisco was the first city in all of California to have a medical cannabis ordinance,” she explains. “Historically, we have been able to communicate our needs as producers to the department successfully and they have been responsive and fair.”