Medical marijuana isn’t even for sale yet in Arkansas, but some people in the industry are already considering the potential market for medical cannabis edibles, products like gummy candies, chocolates, cookies and brownies.
They’re increasingly popular in the states where marijuana — both recreational and medical — is legal. The edibles market in the United States and Canada is expected to grow to $4.1 billion by 2022, according to a report by ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics. The Specialty Food Association had placed cannabis cuisine on its list of food trends for 2018, along with plant-based foods, Filipino cuisine and something called “Goth food,” a black food trend that has been largely absent (happily, as far as I’m concerned) from Arkansas.
Acanza Health Group of Little Rock, one of 32 dispensaries licensed by the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, is considering offering edibles at its location at 2733 N. McConnell Ave. in Fayetteville, said consultant Michael Mayes, who’s advising the dispensary. But how much will depend on sales.
And Delta Medical Cannabis Co. of Jonesboro, a cultivator, has indicated it plans to offer edibles as well.
However, a bill introduced last week in the Arkansas Legislature by state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, would prohibit the use of medical marijuana in food and drink form except in limited circumstances. It was scheduled to be reviewed by a Senate committee as we went to press.
In addition, Amendment 98 to the state Constitution, which allowed the sale of medical cannabis, “states that edibles cannot in any way resemble common snacks or candies, or otherwise seem appealing to children,” said ABC spokesman Scott Hardin. “It is very broad in that it does not specifically state what is or isn’t appealing to children, but in the past, we advised edibles be presented in muted colors. Beyond that, this is a bit of a gray area.”
Edible — or ingestible, for that matter — cannabis products have a number of advantages over combustibles — three in particular, said Mayes, CEO of Quantum 9 of Chicago, a marijuana consulting company. No. 1, people who can’t inhale medicine, such as those with compromised respiratory systems, might find edible products easier to use. No. 2, consuming products can be much more discreet and private than smoking or vaping medical marijuana. And No. 3, because it’s ingestible, the effects of medical cannabis have the potential to be longer-lasting, according to Mayes.
However, he said, the therapeutic effects are felt more quickly with smokable medical marijuana.
Mayes noted that one of the principal owners and CEO of Acanza Health Group, Randi Hernandez, had experience setting up a cannabis-cultivation and extraction laboratory in Maine and is bringing that experience to Arkansas.
But how does a patient know that the medical marijuana in that chocolate or brownie he’s consuming is safe?
Mayes compared medical marijuana to nutraceuticals, food products claiming to provide health benefits, things like dietary supplements. The Food & Drug Administration does regulate dietary supplements, but under a set of regulations much less stringent than those for pharmaceuticals. However, under federal law, marijuana remains illegal, so the agency will not be monitoring your neighborhood medical marijuana dispensary.
Hardin said the ABC will be relying on the Arkansas Department of Health for product testing. The Health Department will be requiring dispensaries and cultivators to test every batch of usable medical marijuana for things like pesticides, water content, heavy metals and the concentration of THC and cannabidiol.
Ultimately, marijuana is a business. The progress of the medical marijuana business in Arkansas hasn’t been smooth, but it’s been fascinating, as watching it should continue to be.