That’s because until recently, making pot brownies was a homespun affair. While Colorado began regulating Dixie and other facilities making edibles for the medical marijuana market in 2010, the rules were mostly about sanitation; there was little attempt to develop standardized production procedures or institute quality-control measures required of other mass-produced food products. Now, edibles companies and state officials are working to change that. Dixie, for example, infuses its products with marijuana concentrate near the end of the production process, rather than “bake” the THC in via cannabis butters. Hodas says this process helps deliver the THC evenly to each bit of the edible. Other companies are experimenting with spraying concentrate onto their finished product to also create a consistent dose.
In May, Colorado began mandatory potency testing of edibles products, hoping to bring much-needed predictability to edible dosages. Unfortunately, only two labs have thus far been cleared to test all of the state’s 40 or so edibles makers, and there’s no way to independently verify the results of either lab. That’s a concern to Ean Seeb, founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting and chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association. In 2012, Seeb had two Colorado labs test the same strain of marijuana. One reported the pot contained 18 percent THC, while the other reported it was 29 percent.
And even if an edibles company gets its production process dialed in perfectly, it’s hard to make a truly consistent product. “We believe we can achieve a level of homogeneity that is appropriate,” says Hodas. “But it is plant matter. So if you take a marijuana candy bar and cut it in half, it’s not going to be 80 percent THC on one half and 20 percent THC on the other, but it might be 52 to 48.” This becomes more of a problem when you’re breaking each bar into 10 or more serving sizes.
This is the biggest challenge currently facing Colorado’s edibles industry: How do you take something that’s considered an indulgence, like candy or soda, and build into it the sort of fine-grained dosing associated with pharmaceuticals? Who wants to carefully nibble on a tiny nugget of a blood orange cannabis candy bar and call it a day? Who wants to sip just a thimbleful of Dixie’s pomegranate elixir?
In the face of growing concerns, Colorado edibles producers are beginning to dial back potency. Dixie, for example, is launching Dixie One, a watermelon cream soda that contains just 5 milligrams of THC in its 8.5 ounces, so you can enjoy the whole bottle without worrying about delivering too big a dose. Some Colorado lawmakers argue such lower potencies should be mandatory, capping all recreational edibles at just 10 milligrams THC—one-tenth of the current levels. Such a rule would seem to benefit companies like Dixie (a customer would have to buy 15 bottles of Dixie One at $6.50 apiece to achieve the dosage of a single bottle of old-fashioned Dixie Elixir, which sells for about $20). But Hodas is against such strict limits. For one thing, it would mean Dixie and its competitors would have to completely redesign every part of their production processes. For another, he says, “I don’t know the consumer elasticity around this.” In other words, maybe the prospect of buying $10 chocolate truffles with just a hint of THC would drive people back to their buddy’s black-market pot brownies.
Instead, Hodas thinks solving the edibles conundrum “is going to take time, education, and product variety”—namely, both 5-milligram products for marijuana rookies and 100-milligram products for old hats. As a society we’ve had generations to learn that a pint of beer does one thing to us, while a shot of whiskey does something different—and along the way we’ve allowed people to discover, through trial and error, which system of alcoholic indulgence works best for them.
“There is still a novelty factor for some people,” says Hodas of edibles. “You get a chocolate bar or cookie, and you don’t give it the respect it deserves. We want people to understand that this is something that demands respect.” The challenge is figuring out how to get people to respect a blue raspberry Giant Gummy Claudie Bear.