DENVER (MainStreet) — In the ten months that recreational weed has been legal in Colorado, manufacturers of marijuana-infused edible foods have reinvented their product lines and labels to comply with the ever-changing rules and regulations governing the industry.
Edible manufacturers now have until February 1 to make products that have no more than 10 mg of THC apiece -- the state-determined amount for one dose -- or a clean way to break products with larger amounts into 10 mg doses.
With many edibles containing well over the state-recommended dosage, just about everyone has to develop new products or invest in new equipment and labeling.
“The lower doses will serve the person who’s experienced but doesn’t want to be really high,” said Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer of Dixie, a maker of edibles, beverages and oils. “It may replace that bottle of wine or half bottle of bourbon on a Friday night.”
Dixie -- which makes a bar that contains 300 mg of THC -- is now making 5 mg sodas and mints to meet the demand of first-time weed consumers, as well as experienced users who want a lower dose. The products also comply with the new regulations.
For Dixie, complying with the new rules is a significant investment. The company recently spent $50,000 on a system that allows it to create blister packs for its newest products. It was not only a compliance decision, but also a branding choice.
“We decided this is something we want as a proprietary part of our brand,” Hodas said. “We didn’t want to go with an off-the-shelf Kush bottle. It’s a differentiator for us. This is not an industry for the faint of heart. You have to have the capital and stomach to roll with the punches.”
It’s even tougher on smaller companies that don’t have a ton of capital to invest in new product development and systems. Still, edibles producers smaller than Dixie support the new rules.
“I feel it truly is the responsible way to get our products out on the market,” said Julie Berliner, founder of Sweet Grass Kitchen, a small-batch bakery that produces and distributes cannabis-infused confections throughout Colorado.
While it’s hard to determine precisely how much it will cost manufacturers of edibles to comply with the new rules, Berliner estimates the new packaging for her products is up to six times as expensive as it was. It also takes as three to seven times as long to package the products, depending on what they are.
“It caused a huge increase in my cost of operation and production, but I was all for it,” said Berliner, who was a member of the group that helped devise the new rules.
After the state adopted the new rules, the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation launched its First Time 5 campaign to encourage novice consumers of marijuana edibles to limit their intake to five milligrams of THC the first time they try a product.
“We are an organization that’s dedicated to promoting responsible regulations and holding up Colorado as a model for other states to learn from and follow as they see fit,” said Steve Fox, executive director of the council. “One of the things we observed along the way is that some people weren’t understanding what an appropriate amount of edibles was, especially novice users, so we launched the campaign.”
The Cannabis Business Alliance launched a similar campaign, creating postcard handouts that provide recommended THC amounts for novice, occasional and frequent consumers. The tagline for the campaign: Start Low. Go Slow.
Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, which is tasked with licensing and regulating the state’s medical and retail marijuana industries, is developing labeling rules for edible products. However, the industry has not yet seen the regulations, so the Cannabis Business Alliance is creating a standard symbol for edibles packaging that delivers three messages: keep away from children; this is an infused product; and keep this product in its original container.
“From a public safety standpoint, this is proactive,” said Meg Collins, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance. “We want to be compliant but we need to get rolling with this. We are more than complying with the spirit of the law.”
--Written by Margaret Jackson for MainStreet