Cases of 190-proof Everclear bottles line the shelves inside Len Goodman’s marijuana edibles kitchen. The nearly pure ethanol isn’t used as an ingredient in his family’s marijuana cheese doodle recipes, brownies or chocolate chip cookies. It’s used instead to extract potent tetrahydroncannabiol and cannabidiol (THC/CBD) oils from plant trim that has been set aside from a recent harvest to make medicinal candies, tinctures and concentrates.
Goodman, who manages NewMexicann Natural Medicine in Santa Fe with his wife and extended family, used to send the oils to CG Higgins candy company across town and buy back tasty truffles, peanut brittle and lollipops. But New Mexico banned the use of commercial kitchens to make cannabis food and beverage products this year. It's another case of the complicated chemistry between state and federal laws.
The letter came just a few months after New Mexico Environment Department's Health Bureau Chief Jack King notified the Department of Health that US Department of Agriculture regulations prohibit commercial kitchens from making anything with marijuana.
"As long as marijuana/cannabis continues to be federally listed as a Schedule One controlled substance, medical cannabis is not a US Food and Drug Administration-approved food additive under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act," wrote King.
Federal regulators consider marijuana to be a food adulterant, and facility inspectors wanted to make sure there was no cross-contamination where retail shoppers might end up with the medication in their food.
"By using extracts and cannabis butter, we also get rid of the nasty plant parts and awful alfalfa taste"
The state's Medical Cannabis Program Manager Ken Groggel sent letters last May ordering 23 licensed producers to stop outsourcing their edibles manufacturing effective in January.
Since the state Environment Department has no authority to regulate medical marijuana products, King offered Groggel an alternative. His inspectors would not take enforcement actions as long as production of the edibles in NMED-permitted facilities ceased.
The Department of Health quickly agreed to the proposal and alerted the nonprofit producers to build their own stand-alone kitchens to conform with consumer standards for food processing, package labels and sanitation by the beginning of the year. Producers were instructed to amend their business plans and not use the kitchens to produce non-cannabis food products for the public.
Edibles are a popular method of cannabis ingestion for patients, according to Groggel, and the program intends to continue their manufacturing and distribution.
Eat your medicine
A sample of SF’s edible cannabis goods:
Fruit of the Earth
Candy makers here use local honey, coconut oil and powdered goat’s milk in $10 Lollipots. The company also sells $22 marijuana tinctures, which are faster acting than edibles. Four different mixtures have been formulated to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and aid sleep. Fruit of the Earth’s Love Potion claims to increase pleasure.
Patients here can get 10 different types of edibles and Canna Pops infused with 7.5 milligrams of THC extract. Root beer, basil cherry and natural sodas and ginger beer are priced at $11. A infused hard candy Moose Pop, with 80 mg, is $15. Organic lemon and toffee bars are $5 less. Their $16 Mega-Doomer’s is a coffee-brownie mix and made with a patient’s choice of indica or sativa marijuana strains. Kanna Krispies are similar to Rice Krispies treats. A 60 mg piece costs $10.
NewMexicann Natural Medicine
The online menu offers 27 edible varieties including Weedles (a cheese doodle with 50 mg of sativa THC/CBD), 100-mg lollipops, candy brittle and popular chocolate raspberry bites. A 3-ounce bag of caramel popcorn is $8.50. The company’s Canna Booz, glycerlin, mists and oil tinctures are priced at $18. A quarter pound of canna butter, with 400 mg of THC/CBD, is listed for $50.
New Mexico Top Organics
This nonprofit producer lists honey oil concentrate with THC levels ranging from 40 to 90 percent. The oil, producers claim, has “an intense effect” and lasts up to eight hours. Their $22 Trikes cinnamon, orange and lemon flavored hard candy, has 250 mgs of THC. A $15 Serenity Bar, with 180 mg, was sold out.
That solution worked for Goodman. He invested thousands of dollars and constructed a new workspace and registered two candy makers with the state.
Even though edibles make up less than a fifth of his sales revenue, they're an important corner of the medicine market.
Goodman's employees call the oils that leave rings of greenish-yellow stains around their fingers "the goo." Liquid samples from each batch are sent to a lab 60 miles away in Albuquerque to measure the potency of THC/CBD in each milligram of extract.
Once the percentage of psychoactive THC/CBD is determined, candy makers can use precise formulas to get consistent product servings. That's something you can't do just crushing up bud and mixing it into cookie batter.
"By using extracts and cannabis butter, we also get rid of the nasty plant parts and awful alfalfa taste," says Goodman.
Albuquerque chocolatier Tim Van Rixel says he takes testing one step further. His Bhang Bars are tested for bacteria, salmonella, E coli, mold, fungus and other impurities.
Heather Manus, the medical director for Santa Fe-based Sacred Garden, used to make organic lemon bars under the brand name Nature's Power before the new kitchen regulations took effect. She says edibles are the best alternative for patients who don't want to inhale carcinogens with their medication.
"Brownies sell well," says Manus.
Her patients eat their medicine just before bedtime because the pain relief, they say, lasts longer.
"They don't wake up in the middle night and have to smoke another bowl," say Manus.
Even parents of children who suffer from epileptic seizures favor edibles.
"They don't want their kids smoking dope," says Goodman.
Still, concerns about marijuana edible use are being raised around the country.
Colorado has formed a group of industry leaders, government officials and health professionals to consider ways to reduce the risks of overdoses and implement new safety regulations.
The task force plans to determine safe levels of active THC/CBD in medical products in proportion to serving sizes and educate the public that ingesting too much can be harmful.
"Our patients know it takes a while for the medicine to take effect," says Goodman. "We tell them to eat a little and wait 90 minutes. After that they can eat a little more if they need it."
Safety discussions in Colorado follow the recent death of a 19-year-old college student, who leaped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony after he ate cookies reportedly infused with hashish oil equivalent to six medical-grade joints.
SFR discovered that even drug legalization advocates aren't opposed to responsible edible guidelines, even though the New Mexico Department of Health doesn't limit the amount of THC in any consumable products.
"We need to create responsible regulations for manufacturing and accurate guidelines, including dosage recommendations for marijuana edibles," writes Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico Policy Coordinator Jessica Gelay in an email. "We also need to invest and educate adults on how to use marijuana products safely. The same way adults learn to use alcohol responsively, the vast majority can and will use marijuana products in the same responsible manner."
A registered patient in Rio Rancho may learn that lesson the hard way. Police there want to know if the man acted negligently last week after his teenage son shared cannabis-laced candies he'd brought to campus from home with other students. After ingesting the infused sweet, one boy reported to the school's nurse office feeling ill.
Rio Rancho Public Schools communication director Kim Vesely tells SFR the patient's son said he didn't know the candy was infused with cannabis.
Similar to prescription and over-the-counter medications, the Department of Health wants patients to take measures to keep products out of children's reach.
"All edibles are required to be packaged and labeled at the time licensed nonprofit producers distribute them," writes spokesman Kenny Vigil.
Vesely says students should treat any candy they get like Halloween.
"Be careful opening candy from others," she adds.
Patients even need to make sure their cats and dogs can't get to it, or they may incur expensive bills from their veterinarians.
In Santa Fe, police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt tells SFR, officers haven't responded to any marijuana intoxication, nor have they arrested any adults for negligently leaving cookies and candy in the reach of children. Even the University of New Mexico says it hasn't recorded any marijuana poisonings. Alcohol overdoses are more common.