The edible-marijuana market is about to expand in Michigan, where medicinal and recreational cannabis have been legalized.
The following is a re-post of an article written by Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press
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In a growing number of spic-and-span kitchens across Michigan, blueberries and espresso beans are being coated in chocolate, brightly colored gummies are being poured into molds and marshmallows, cherries and crushed cookies are being added to chocolate bars.
But these are not quite the Willy Wonka factories of childhood dreams.
In addition to the sweet ingredients, oils extracted from the cannabis plant also are being infused into these products, which are becoming a staple of medical marijuana dispensaries and will be a core sales item when the adult recreational market starts selling legal weed early next year.
The edibles market — consisting mostly of gummies, chocolate bars and truffles, mints, gum and infused drinks —saw $1.5 billion in sales in 2018 in the United States and Canada, according to BDS Analytics, a Boulder, Colorado-based research firm that follows the cannabis market.
As more states legalize marijuana for adult recreational use — there are 10 now, including Michigan — that number is expected to grow to $4.1 billion in sales by 2022.
Consider Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, where 2.7 million units of edible products were sold in 2015, the first full year of legal marijuana sales, according to the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division. By 2017, that number rose to 11.1 million edible units sold, which accounts for 13.4% of the state’s marijuana market.
In anticipation of the budding recreational market in Michigan, local edible chefs are ramping up production and the leading national edible brands such as Colorado-based Dixie Elixirs and Wana Brands, as well as California-based Kiva Confections, have partnered with Michigan companies to break into the state’s market, which already has nearly 293,000 medical marijuana customers and many more potential customers for the recreational market.
“We’re making about 1,500 chocolate bars per day and we’re going to double that amount. We can’t keep them in stock,” said Maxwell Murphy, who is in charge of compliance for Choice Labs, a company that operates marijuana grow and processing facilities and two dispensaries in Leoni Township near Jackson. “We’re hiring right now for a second shift and when the recreational market comes on line, we’ll get more automated equipment when we get to a bigger scale.”
Choice, which also produces its own line of gummies and works with other Michigan producers, has partnered with Dixie Elixirs and is in the process of constructing a separate building that will be devoted to Dixie’s line of products, which range from chocolate bars and gummies to marijuana-infused drinks.
“We’re super excited about it,” said Chuck Smith, CEO of Dixie. “We want to get a good foothold in Michigan so we can move right into the recreational market when it starts.”
The processing facilities are high-tech lab and kitchen facilities where THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis plants that produces the high associated with pot — and CBDs —cannabidiol or the non-psychoactive element in cannabis — are extracted from cannabis plants. The elements are then distilled into a concentrated oil and infused into edible products.
People like Jackson resident Zac Robertson, who got degrees in biomedical science and chemistry from Western Michigan University where he was actually doing molecular research on chocolate production, now oversees the cannabis extraction at Choice Labs.
“This opportunity happened and it’s been amazing,” he said.
The marijuana industry employed between 125,000 and 160,000 people nationally in 2018, according to MJBiz Daily, which follows the cannabis business, and a couple of Michigan universities — Northern Michigan and Lake Super State — are offering classes and degrees in cannabis chemistry, to fuel both the growing and processing ends of the business.
Edibles provide an alternative for marijuana consumers who don’t want to smoke their weed as well as providing a discreet form of using the products, especially in states, like Michigan, that don’t allow public consumption of marijuana.
“Most people aren’t smoking cigarettes in public, and you can’t smoke cannabis in public,” Smith said. “Something like a low-dose mint is very discreet and people can do that when they’re out socializing and not feel like there’s any stigma to what they’re doing.”
Nancy Whiteman, CEO of the Boulder, Colorado-based Wana Brands, one of the leading producers of gummies, said that many people don’t want to smoke and inhale marijuana anymore and edibles can provide both short- and long-term highs, depending on the dose.
“What we’re seeing more and more is people matching their form of ingestion with what they’re taking the products for,” she said. “It’s not unusual for some gummies to last six or eight hours, so people use them to help with sleep. Or you can micro-dose and have a nice, relaxing day.”
For High Life Farms, which has a marijuana grow and production facility in Chesaning, the partnership with Wana Brands, Kiva Confections and Keef Cola is fueling production of chocolate-covered blueberries and espresso beans, a variety of chocolate bars, gummies and a line of drinks that still need to get approval from the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation.
“Between 20,000 to 24,000 units of gummies is our weekly goal,” said R.J. Morse, production manager for High Life. “So far, everything we’ve produced has been received really well.”
Both Morse and High Life general manager Phil Hedden worked in mid-Michigan food processing plants — pickles and peppers — before transferring to pot, where the company was one of the first to get licensed by the state.
All the 11 licensed processors who are making edibles have to abide by a strict set of rules set by the state. Packaging has to be child-resistant and not contain any cartoon-like images that might be attractive to children.
The state’s rules on packaging and dosages has everything to do with safety and keeping the products away from kids. And that’s an important consideration as recreational marijuana becomes readily available in stores and homes.
In a study done by the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical campus, 81 patients younger than 10 were evaluated at the children’s hospital for marijuana ingestion and the Regional Poison Center received 163 marijuana exposure cases between 2009 and 2015. The number of marijuana-related hospital visits nearly doubled in the two years after marijuana was legalized in 2014 and 48% involved edibles.
Another study from the University of Colorado, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, reported marijuana-related emergency room visits jumped from 161 in 2005 to 777 in 2015 for adolescents ages 13-21.
At The Reef dispensary in Detroit, where all the edibles are conceived and made in Michigan, the “Lozenges on a Stick” can’t be called exactly what they look like — lollipops — because that might appeal to children, said Evan Pilot, financial controller for the dispensary.
Edible sales are up at The Reef, Pilot said, but some people also are leery of the products because they’re used to smoking pot and the high with edibles is different, can affect the whole body and feels more intense.
“I’ve noticed some people say there’s a negative stigma surrounding edibles,” he said. “They may have tried it once and it just feels differently than when they’re smoking it.”
Increasing even more in popularity, according to processors and dispensaries, are the vape cartridges of concentrated cannabis-infused oils, which are flavored and don’t produce the telltale and distinctive smell of smoking marijuana.
“We have released a line of disposable vape pens and those are doing really, really well,” Whiteman said. “Concentrates have been a huge initiative for us.”
Other requirements from the state:
- All products must be lab-tested and shelf-stable, which means they can survive on store shelves without spoiling, and mostly nonperishable, containing either an expiration or “use-by” date, which indicates the item is no longer “optimally fresh.”
- Marijuana-infused foods that require refrigeration, such as hummus, ice cream, cream pies, milk and dairy products and cheesecake, are prohibited.
- Some products will require additional processing to be considered shelf-stable, such as salad dressings, sauces and condiments, all beverages and canned pickled, vegetable and fruit products.
- Medical marijuana edibles can have a maximum dosage of 50 milligrams per serving and the state is still determining whether the maximum dosage for recreational edibles will be lower. In Colorado, for example, the dosage per serving for recreational edibles is 10 milligrams.
“Bringing a lower dose product is something we’re already anticipating,” said High LIfe’s Hedden. “For the recreational market, micro-dosing is really important.”
Getting in on the ground floor of the edibles market in Michigan, the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, is a key goal of national brands
“Michigan will be a very competitive market,” Dixie’s Smith said. “We’ve had their folks out to our facility and our folks are there now helping to train and supervise as they start production.”
For Whiteman, it was important for Wana to be an early entry into the state’s marketplace.
“Even before we launched in February, we pre-sold into 21 dispensaries and we’re in more now,” she said. “We think we’ll be able to pivot into the recreational market as soon as it’s up and ready to go.”
Recreational marijuana sales will begin after the state develops the rules and regulations to govern the Michigan market. The Bureau of Marijuana Regulation has until Dec. 6 to put those rules in place and begin accepting applications for business licenses. For at least the first year, licensed medical marijuana businesses will get the first chance at recreational licenses.
This article was first published on https://www.cannabisimp.com.