Eric Speidell and his brothers display their wares at their flagship store in what looks like a deli case. Oatmeal cookies, pretzel bites, truffles. Even root beer pops, leftovers from a Father’s Day special.
These are infused marijuana products for beginners, the only kind the Speidells make. Each wrapped package contains no more than 10 milligrams of active THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient.
The business model behind the Speidells’ line of edibles, Infuzionz, is questioned by competitors who argue the market is driven by regular customers who demand products packing more punch.
State regulators are about to provide a strong incentive to make it the industry norm.
In response to public safety concerns over edibles sold in recreational stores, state officials are drafting stricter potency and dosing-size rules designed to reduce the risk of overconsumption. At the same time, business owners are stepping up educational efforts urging shoppers to “start low, go slow.”
The new rules are expected to be issued this month. Since April, a group that includes health officials, regulators, law enforcement, industry representatives and activists from both sides of the legalization debate have met four times to discuss the possibilities.
“It’s a balance of what the public wants, but also public safety,” said Dr. George Sam Wang of Children’s Hospital Colorado, which has treated 10 children this year for exposure to marijuana, up from eight all of last year. “Obviously, the public passed Amendment 64. But at the same time, it’s the state’s and the health community’s job to figure out unintended consequences and curb some of these things.”
Under a draft proposal, the state would essentially regulate out of existence bite-sized products that pack in 100 milligrams of active THC, the maximum allowed by state law.
The draft rules from the Department of Revenue would provide incentives for companies to produce 10 milligram products — the standardized serving size under state law — by putting greater burdens on manufacturers of products between 10 and 100 milligrams.
For example, a candy bar in that range would need to be divided into sections that can easily be broken off, with each section marked or stamped with its THC content. Edibles that don’t lend themselves to such division — say, granola or potato chips — would need to come in packages with no more than 10 milligrams total.
State law already requires the labels of edibles to include serving size and THC information, but regulators believe more needs to be done. As extra encouragement, companies making products with 10 milligrams or less would face less stringent product testing.
“It’s a way of putting the carrot in front of the rabbit,” said Speidell, who also co-owns The Green Solution chain of recreational stores and medical dispensaries with two of his brothers. “The incentivized way they’re doing it make sense because you are ending up with a product that really isn’t that risky.”
The Speidells started Infuzionz after a run on edible sales beginning Jan. 1 left the shelves bare. At $2 to $4 apiece, the single-serving edibles are meant to attract tourists who want to mix and match.
The Green Solution sells other companies’ edibles that reach 100 milligrams of THC. Some businesses have stopped making those products, in part because they risk being forced to destroy batches if state-mandated tests find they exceeded potency limits.
Eric Thorn, 29, of Denver, said he bought his first edible, a strawberry crunch bar, shortly after recreational pot was legalized. He cut the 100 milligram bar into eighths, ate a piece, and waited 30 minutes.
Thorn said bite-sized edibles with the maximum THC under state law are “kind of dangerous” for new users. He supports the draft rules, although he thinks a stamp on each segment might be too much. “I mean, it’s not so clear right now,” said Thorn.
Bob Eschino, founding partner of Medically Correct, which produces Incredibles edibles, contends very few novice users shop at Colorado stores. When his company introduced a 25 milligram bar — its weakest — he said recreational stores didn’t want to carry it.
His response: You might not sell many, but you need to offer them.
Eschino, like other business owners, questions the need to stamp or mark each segment. He said that would require spending between $30,000 and $40,000 to purchase molds, made more difficult by the industry’s lack of access to banks and traditional financing.
The state legislature this spring passed a bill, now law, that requires marijuana edibles to be “shaped, stamped, colored or otherwise marked with a standard symbol” so they’re clearly identifiable as infused. The additional rules under consideration would require identifying THC content on pieces.
Rachel O’Bryan, a founding member of SMART Colorado, which supports tighter restrictions on the marijuana industry, said the state should ban bite-sized edibles that include 100 milligrams of THC.
“If you don’t ban it outright, technology and entrepreneurs within this industry move so fast I don’t doubt someone will figure out how to meet all the requirements in the smallest product,” she said.
Industry representatives are pushing educational efforts, including budtender training. The Cannabis Business Alliance has developed a handout for retail outlets that includes color-coded dosage recommendations for new, occasional and frequent consumers.
One unanswered question is whether small, one-bite edibles contained in larger packages — including cookies — will need to be wrapped in individual packages. Makers of edibles have called it another cost-prohibitive step, but the idea has support, too.
“From my perspective, having that signal to the consumer, to the user, that this is one serving and the fact they have to take an action to open and ingest it is a very reasonable step to ensure they understand what they are ingesting,” said state Rep. Frank McNulty, a Republican who is part of the group debating the new rules.
Regulators also are trying to figure out how to handle measuring dosing sizes of infused sodas and juices.
“Any time you come up with a solution to address a particular issue, it always gets complicated by all the different forms that recreational marijuana products can come in,” said Lewis Koski, director of the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, part of the Department of Revenue. “That is really where the biggest challenge lies.”