Cannabis edibles, which use food to deliver marijuana's effects, will be stuck in limbo during the year following the Oct. 17 legalization of recreational cannabis.
It will be legal for adult consumers to buy dried cannabis bud or processed cannabis oil, and make edibles at home as of that date. But sales of mass-produced edibles won't be legal for up to a year beyond Oct 17.
The federal government says it needs that extra time to create regulations that will "address the specific risks associated with these types of products."
That regulatory lag sounds like bad news for an industry that's champing at the bit to sell new product types. But for some, the delay for legal, mass-produced edibles could open up entirely new opportunities.
"I think it's going to be tremendous," said Garyn Angel, founder and CEO of Florida-based MagicalButter.com Inc., which produces the MagicalButter machine.
The device is billed as a sort of Instant Pot for weed edibles, enabling users to make consistent cannabis-infused food at home with minimal know-how. Users pour in activated cannabis bud, then add butter, oil or alcohol and press a few buttons.
"Once you've hit those two buttons, the machine takes care of everything else," Angel said. "It grinds, it stirs, it heats."Advertisement
After a few hours and a bit of straining, the machine yields cannabis-infused butter, oil or tinctures.
"We're gearing up and expanding our operations into Canada in a big way. We're going on a hiring spree in Canada, we have large distribution plans for Canada."
'For me, it's great!'
Cody Lindsay, a cannabis-friendly chef and Canadian military veteran who brands himself "The Wellness Soldier," said it's too bad the government isn't regulating commercial cannabis edibles in time for legalization.
"It's just sad that they're going that route. It's going to be one of the highest (popularity) forms used when using cannabis, it's really a shame that they're not looking at it straight away," he said.
Still, Lindsay sees an opening for his business as a cannabis food educator and cookbook author.
"For me, it's great," he said with a laugh.
"People, regardless, are going to want to learn how to create their own. "People are going to want to empower themselves and get in the kitchen and create their own edibles. Nothing's better than doing it yourself."
Lindsay plans to keep offering classes on making edibles at medical cannabis clinics across Canada, as well as working with licensed producers to make recipe cards that can be included with cannabis purchases.
Precisely-dosed, food-grade cannabis oils are already available to medical users, and will be available for recreational users right at the outset of legalization. They'll offer an easy way to make edibles at home right after legalization, Lindsay said.
"To be able to… walk into a store, grab a product off the shelf that gives you the exact amount of milligrams of THC or CBD per millilitre is definitely going to be the way to go, because it's going to empower the consumer to know exactly how much they're putting in their body," he said.
"And it really takes away from that 'only eat the head of the gummy bear,' or 'only eat half of the cookie,' that sort of silliness."
Even after commercially-produced edibles are available on store shelves, Lindsay's not worried that business might drop off.
"Everybody's always going to want to learn, everybody's always going to want to have that entertainment factor or learning how to create edibles and create edible cannabis-infused products."
Angel said he isn't worried about competition from mass-produced edibles, either — he plans to market MagicalButter brand edible products in Canada.
"Everybody wants to buy MagicalButter in the store! So this is a transition point for us," he said. "We'll have a consumables brand in the Canadian market with a licensed producer."
The lack of legal, mass-market cannabis edibles after legalization presents an obvious opportunity for black-market players, who are already selling an astounding variety of edibles in illicit dispensaries, both retail and online.
"You see hundreds of products now," said Travis Lane, an organic cannabis growing expert who consults in various aspects of B.C.'s weed industry. (Lane founded InternetDispensary.com, but is no longer involved with that business.)
"When I first started in the dispensary portion of the cannabis industry, there were two or three companies that made cookies and brownies, and it was mostly just baked goods made in a home kitchen, or maybe someone would get a small-scale commercial kitchen and rent that," he said.
These days, Lane sees online dispensaries selling sophisticated consumable products ranging from drinks to candies to flavoured oral mists.
"To the point that there was a company here in Victoria, at one point, that was distributing medicated cotton candy," he said.
"I've seen medicated ice cream. You look at that and you go, 'At what point does it get a bit excessive?' But also, if all this variety is available on the black market, how are they going to shut that down when Oct. 17 rolls around?"
The quality of black-market edibles available in Canada varies widely, Lane said. Reputable brands test their products for potency and shelf stability, but "the bad actors are there for a short period of time and try and make as much money as they can."
The regulatory restriction on legal cannabis edibles will keep online dispensaries in business, Lane believes.
"I think the black market will thrive on every level for three or four years before it might start to decline through competition."
Robert (not his real name) produces high-end cannabis edibles under the brand name EP Infusions. Based in Montreal, he has a background in craft beer brewing and started making edible weed products "more as a hobby and as an experiment, and something to do for my own personal satisfaction."
After starting in 2015 with cannabis-infused beverages, Robert has since switched mostly to making chocolate bars. EP Infusions' flagship bars, extravagantly wrapped in Japanese chiyogami paper, contain 120 milligrams of THC and 12 milligrams of CBD and retail for $20 to $28.
"At the very beginning (distribution) was very local, it was often very much by word of mouth, just among our social circle.... At this point, we have a lot of different avenues for distribution," he said.
That includes local deliveries in Montreal, where cannabis dispensaries are less common than other major Canadian cities, plus "several online retailers" based in B.C. A few retail dispensaries also carry EP Infusions products.
Even though slick products such as his might be a hot commodity during the transitional period before legal commercial edibles hit the market, Robert said he's "ambivalent on how much of an opportunity it represents."
"At this point, we're working very hard to figure out what our path to the legal market is, because there's a window that is going to close."
He also suggested businesses such as his might face increased scrutiny after legalization.
"The state is now selling people weed, and is probably not going to appreciate the competition. I see it actually as a sign that our opportunity for making it to the legal market, we're approaching that finishing line."
For now, Robert said he plans to keep making and selling edibles until a clear path towards legal sales presents itself.
"Either that means applying for licensing ourselves, or finding an opportunity for partnership with some entity that already has licensing and sees value in our product and value in our brand, and wants to help us get to that market," he said.
That might involve withdrawing from the black market to eventually re-launch as a legal brand.
"But for the time being, we're just working hard to build our reputation and keep connecting with people."