Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Regulating marijuana infused edibles like food

Chris McGann
WSDA Communications

The THC infused caramel center for a
Wave Edibles chocolate turtle.
A marijuana-laced munchable might calm your nerves, help you sleep or ease your pain; it might even get you high, but it shouldn’t make you sick.

That’s the rationale guiding Washington State Department of Agriculture's Food Safety program marijuana infused edible (MIE) facility inspections.

WSDA has conducted MIE facility inspections since 2013 under Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) authority. But this year the agency took charge of food safety regulation for the pot industry, including the power to carry out enforcement and recalls.

WSDA Food Safety Inspectors Keren LaCourse and Jeff Freshly
observe operations at Db3 marijuana processing facility.   
A lot like food

At a recent inspection of Db3, a high tech marijuana extraction and production facility in South Seattle, WSDA NW Regional Food Safety Manager Keren LaCourse explained the criteria with Db3 co-founder Michael Devlin.

“It’s just like a food inspection, but it’s edibles,” said LaCourse. “We look at some of the same criteria that we could look for in a food processing establishment.”

WSDA evaluates things such as proper hygiene, sanitation, pest control, materials storage, and allergenic cross contact to name just a few items listed on a 53-point checklist.

Welcome news to some processors

Devlin said he was pleased to know that WSDA now has its own regulatory authority over marijuana infused edibles and that it will be more involved with the edible companies.

Db3 co-founder Michael Devlin and Operations Manager Lindsay
Short explain their THC extraction process and food handling
 practices during a WSDA facility inspection.  
He said it makes sense to hold marijuana infused edible producers to the same standards as food processors, with the same accountability.

A new view

When voters legalized it in 2012, Washington State’s main goals for marijuana regulation involved tax collection, preventing misuse and product safety. 

As such, tax regulation for marijuana fell to the Washington State Department of Revenue while marijuana production, processing and retail sale regulations became the purview of the WSLCB.

But it wasn’t long before regulators and producers recognized the importance of covering marijuana infused edibles the same as traditional foods where WSDA has full authority over food safety.

If it's edible, food safety matters

A single 10 mg "dose" of cannabis oil. Db3
uses a proprietary process to extract oil used
to infuse goodies like brownies with THC.
There is only a miniscule difference – a 10 mg dose of a difference to be exact – between a brownie and a brownie-shaped marijuana infused edible. Of course, that little dose can really change how that brownie might make you feel. But you could be in for another kind of experience if the rest of the ingredients, the flour, butter and eggs for example, are mishandled, contaminated or mislabeled. Call that feeling salmonella poisoning to name one common pathogen.

Delvin said Db3 was the first licensed edible company in the state. The firm makes Zoots Premium Cannabis Infusions products such as ZootBites Caramel Espresso Brownies. He said he supported the state's efforts to come up with stronger food safety requirements for the industry.

The irony

An engineer by training, Devlin has more than 30 years in the food processing field. He admits his embrace of new regulations is ironic.

“When I was working in food processing, I always believed that we were overregulated,” he said. “But when we started with edibles, it was obvious we needed the same rules as the other food producers.”

Devlin said his opinion changed because of the nature of the new cannabis industry where there may be some incentive to focus on the THC and neglect quality control for the edible in which it is delivered. If edibles producers compete at that level, they may be taking shortcuts that could increase the risk of making consumers sick, he said.

Protecting the public and the industry

Crafting delicious chocolates has always been a vocation for
 Wave Edibles Chocolatier Nola Wyse. But now she's using her
 skill set to create treats that include a perfectly balanced infusion
 of marijuana extract. 
His desire to enhance food safety regulations in the cannabis industry came partly out of what he described as a moral obligation to protect public health, and also economic concerns.

“If someone gets sick from an edible, people aren’t going to say it was salmonella, the story is going to be that someone got sick from a marijuana product,” Delvin said.

A perception that infused products are unsafe would hurt everyone, he said.

“We are founding participants in a new industry, that’s a responsibility and we don’t take that responsibility lightly,” he said. “We want the industry to be more concerned about food safety. We need to do it right.”

Edible endorsement

About 75 firms with WSLCB Marijuana Processor licenses have purchased the WSDA $895 MIE Endorsement required for making marijuana edibles in Washington state. WSDA inspects facilities within the 12 months of the endorsement purchase.

It is not legal to add MIE products under a Food Processor license, process MIE products at a facility that processes non-marijuana food products or process non-marijuana food products at a facility that produces MIE products.

For more information about food safety and marijuana infused edibles, visit WSDA's Marijuana Infused Edible Inspections page.