Pubdate: Wed, 16 Aug 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Joshua Miller


DENVER - Many college students will tell you that making pot brownies
is easy - just sprinkle a little marijuana into a pan of melting
butter, then follow the instructions on the back of the Duncan Hines

But marijuana entrepreneurs in this center of cannabis innovation face
a much higher bar. They have no trouble dreaming up creative treats
and concoctions infused with psychoactive THC, but meeting hundreds of
pages of health and safety regulations means their imagination is
handcuffed. And for good reason: the rules demand precise dosing,
uniform potency, and warning symbols imprinted on the food itself.

Pot-dusted almonds, Tootsie Roll-like bites, Rice Krispies Treat
equivalents? All tough to produce as a result.

Every industry has its particular challenges. Marijuana-infused
product manufacturers, which make a highly regulated, often
psychoactive product that's still illegal under federal law, face more
than most.

"It's very challenging. It's deceptively challenging," said Nancy
Whiteman, co-founder and co-owner of Wana Brands, Colorado's number
one edibles company in sales and units sold. "You wouldn't think
making gummies is so hard, but it actually is."

The struggles and triumphs of such businesses in Colorado, where
stores have been selling retail marijuana for three years and seven
months, offer a preview of what's coming to Massachusetts. Over the
next year, a soon-to-be appointed commission will make regulations
that will determine what form pot-infused products will take in the
state's retail marijuana market.

Denver-based Dixie Elixirs, one of the country's biggest producers of
pot products, makes root beer and lemonade, mints and tarts,
chocolates and drops, cinnamon and citrus gummies, bath soak and
muscle balm - all infused with compounds derived from marijuana.

Like any consumer products business, the company uses data about what
people like to buy to drive new product lines. But in the
infused-product industry, said Dixie chief marketing officer Joe
Hodas, "Regulation drives innovation."

Each serving has to be marked with an exclamation point and the
letters THC, for tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana's primary
psychoactive compound. That helps differentiate a pot candy from a
regular one.

And each serving, which can't have more than 10mg of THC, has to be
physically marked in a way that "that enables a reasonable person to
intuitively determine how much of the product constitutes a single
serving," according to Colorado's official regulations, and allows
them to physically separate a serving "with minimal effort."

At Dixie headquarters, a building in an industrial part of town where
the air carries a whiff off weed, Hodas ticked off several examples of
regulation driving the business's new products.

Market analyses show consumers like sour candy. "Everything is sour
right now," he said. "Sour is the big, hot thing."

But instead of expanding into a sour Twizzler-like concoction or jelly
beans, Dixie made Tarts - half-inch-or-so circles that look sort of
like SweeTarts. Dixie uses the same pill press that it uses to make
its mints, which eased the process of imprinting the warning symbol
and evenly distributing the THC dosage.

Another example: Dixie Rolls, a pot-infused Tootsie Roll equivalent,
were popular. But the company had to pull the product in Colorado. It
was made with an extruder and stamping the warning label on the rolls
proved extremely difficult. Edible ink technology, Hodas said, was

But around the same time, Dixie expanded its chocolate bar line to
include white chocolate with rainbow sprinkles ("Birthday Cake").
Chocolate bars happen to be one of the easiest confections to make in
compliance with all the regulations.

Marijuana distillate can be evenly distributed into a chocolate
emulsion for homogeneous dosing. It can be molded into break-offable
squares, making it easy for people to recognize the size of a serving.
And the molds can be crafted to imprint a warning symbol.

Whiteman, of Wana Brands (sour peach gummies, anyone?) said "the
marking of the product is the tail that wags the dogs. So whenever
we're talking about a new product, the first thing we are talking
about it: how do we get the symbol on it?"

And, she said, the next question is: can it be easily divided and made
so that the THC level is the same in each serving?

Wana has taken products off the market in Colorado when it couldn't
figure out how to meet new guidelines.

Almonds glazed with a sugar and THC mix were delicious, according to
Whiteman. But, "it was very, very hard to make that homogeneous and
impossible to figure out how to mark it" with the symbol, she said.

In Massachusetts, a yet-to-be-appointed five-person board will craft
the regulations for infused-product manufacturers, along with pot
shops, farms, and testing facilities.

Adam Fine, a Boston-based lawyer with the national marijuana-focused
law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, said what the Cannabis Control
Commission decides will, in large part, determine how successful
businesses that make edibles will be. He expressed hope that the
regulators take into account the practicalities of running a business
- - along with public health and public safety - as they craft the rules.

Politicians, including Governor Charlie Baker, and public health
officials have voiced sharp concerns about weed-infused edibles. They
worry about their appeal to children and the perils of

But industry executives say properly-regulated edibles - all come in
child-resistant packaging - are safe. And they are easier to take in
small doses than smoking, so adults can get a buzz similar to that
from a glass of wine.

Back in Denver, Jay Denniston, Dixie's director of science, emphasized
that chemistry is an important determinant of which products can clear
regulatory hurdles, fulfill consumer desires, and be crafted

And it's finding the, well, sweet spot between those three competing
pressures that makes for a successful business.

Some questions he talks with colleagues about: In each edible
products, do you deliver a pot taste or not? If you do want to deliver
that cannabis-y taste, with what flavor do you pair it? If not, how do
you mask it?

"Do you want the flavor to punch?" said Denniston, standing in an
office lined with small glass tubes of experiments in progress. "You
want the consumer to wake up and say, 'Whoa! This gummy bear is really
getting me going'? Or do you want somebody to relax with a nice
effervescent beverage that's like grapefruit and lavender, and just
sink into the couch?"

Dixie Elixirs was founded in 2010 by two entrepreneurs, Chuck Smith
and Tripp Keber. It now has about 100 employees working for or with
the brand in three states where recreational use has been approved,
Colorado, California, and Nevada; and one medical-only state, Arizona.

But the products are uniform around the country, and any ideas for new
ones come through Denniston's office.

In an interview with the Globe, he mulled some hypothetical edibles.

"Maybe the market wants an effervescent tablet that you throw into
water and if fizzes up and now you have lemonade," he said, pausing
briefly as a quizzical look appeared on his face. "That's actually
very, very difficult because you're working with emulsion chemistry
and tableting chemistry."

A certain cacao-based product on the other hand...

"If I were to say, scientifically, how would I deliver it?" Denniston
said, "Well, I would pick chocolate."
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