If you’ve been paying attention, you know that edibles are a popular and interesting segment of the recreational cannabis market, accounting for about 15% of cannabis sales. They appeal to entry-level and older consumers who may not be comfortable with actually smoking anything or those consumers who wish to try something different but are intimidated by the exotic world of concentrates. It is easy to see that edibles have less stigma in the eyes of new consumers, while still being popular with many experienced consumers. The industry is awash in gummies, chocolates, hard candies, and beverages (including non-alcoholic beers) infused with THC, but the wide range of products can be roughly broken down into candies, chocolates, beverages, tinctures, infused food, and pills. Candy is the most popular, making up almost half of edibles sales, and gummies alone account for about a third of the edibles market.
But edibles are fraught with problems for the regulators and the industry. We’ve all heard the horror stories of the inexperienced consumer who accidentally ingests multiple doses and the reports of children gobbling up some candy and ending up in the emergency room. Fortunately, THC overdoses tend not cause the kind of devastation and death that ethanol overdoses do, but accidental over-consumption (particularly by children) is highly aversive and results in bad press, law suits, and regulatory reaction. There are also complicated issues of concentrations of pesticides and contaminants, inconsistencies in potency, problems with testing, etc.
Many states have repeatedly changed their regulation of edibles years after their markets opened. This is precisely the kind of regulatory change that can be difficult and costly for businesses to comply with, and edible companies would be well-advised to consider what type of regulation their state and municipality might enact down the road in reaction to negative events that occur in the rec market or shifts in consumer expectation and education.
If you are designing edibles, what should you expect?
Many states regulate the appearance of the edible so as not to directly appeal to children – shapes of animals, cartoons, fruit, etc., are often prohibited. Making infused edibles appear different than kids’ candy seems to be widely accepted as a commonsense method to deter accidental consumption by children. Washington state briefly considered a full ban on hard candies and gummies, but relented on the ban and instead is tightly regulating such edibles. For instance, it looks like brightly colored candies will not be permitted in WA – they can be white, cream, grey, black, etc. Are dreary colors safer? Maybe. Will this cause compliance problems for businesses? Maybe. Massachusetts prohibits edibles in the shape of people, animals, or fruit. Will we see stricter regs in Massachusetts once the market matures a little?
Packaging – child proof packing is generally mandated. This seems like a no-brainer. However, the wide variety of infused edible products creates a need for a wide range of appropriate packaging. Some products are challenging to package in such a way that it can be opened, resealed, and still be child proof. Further complicating packaging is a strong current within the industry, and from the regulators, to be environmentally friendly.
Labeling – clear and conspicuous labeling as cannabis and THC should be expected. You would never want an adult to eat a large amount of your product without knowing it’s infused. The external packaging will need to be labeled, of course, and many states are requiring that the actual edible product must, if possible, have a state-designated mark so that product removed from the packaging can still be identified as containing THC.
Dosages – States have been tinkering with different doses per serving, but the consensus seems to fall between 5-10mg THC for recreational products. Massachusetts requires each dose to be separate or easily broken off (think squares of a chocolate bar) and a single serving is 5mg. A package cannot contain more than 20 servings (100mg total THC). In Massachusetts, beverages can only be single serving. For comparison, California, Colorado and Washington designate a serving as 10mg with a 100mg per package limit, but Oregon says a serving is 5mg and limits a package to 50mg.
Consistency: Commercial grade equipment and standardized procedures are helpful, if not essential, to produce edibles with consistent and compliant levels of THC. If you produce a package of edibles that tests over the limit, you risk having your entire batch confiscated and destroyed.
Testing: The legal states are not utilizing uniform testing methods and many states continue to encounter irregularities in the actual amount of THC in packaged edibles being produced by licensed operators. Without federal oversight (akin to alcohol regulation), it may be some time before there are universally accepted standards for testing and measuring edibles. Manufacturers may consider the likelihood of ongoing upheaval on this front as testing methods are replaced and revised.
The takeaway: An edibles business should carefully consider the possibility of changing regulations with respect to appearance, dosage, packaging, labeling, and testing requirements when designing products, drafting operating procedures, and investing in equipment.