Pubdate: Wed, 06 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Corey Mintz
Page: L1


Fledgling entrepreneurs are trying to get started in the edible
marijuana business in advance of next summer's promised legalization.
As Corey Mintz reports, they have all the stresses of any other food
business, as well as other, more unique concerns

Buying and selling marijuana in Canada is currently a very grey market
- - almost legal but with a shrug emoji attached. Along this legally
nebulous frontier, no one has more of an uphill battle than the makers
and distributors of edible products.

Caught between the fearful underground economy of yesterday and the
optimistic, freemarket opportunity of tomorrow, bakers and chefs (and
marketers and investors) are currently toiling to develop delicious
marijuana-infused foods. Their goal is to do away with the classic pot
brownie - that gooey, Cheech and Chong era relic that more often than
not fails to mask the flavour of the drug - and build a viable
business selling food that makes you high.

Any food business struggles to be noticed in a competitive market and
to keep labour and ingredient costs low while growing at a scalable
pace. Edible-marijuana entrepreneurs also face some major challenges
that most food businesses don't, such as controlling the dose of the
drug they're administering; working with a product many people don't
like the taste of; and coping with the unpredictability of the law.

These are real cooks in real kitchens, people who know that marijuana
is fat-soluble and has to be heated to activate the THC. They're
making bars of caramelized white chocolate with smoked sea salt, or
pretzel and marshmallow blondies, and infusing marijuana into poutine
gravy and Jamaican patties (both beef and vegan), as well as hot sauce
and salad dressing.

And, since this it's no longer the summer of '69, they're putting
effort into social media and design.

Take Montreal company EP Infusions, run by a former construction
worker turned amateur craft brewer who prefers not to use his name,
since the Quebec marijuana business is still more black market than

His bars are made with Belcolade and Cacao Barry chocolate, and come
beautifully wrapped in ornate Japanese paper with the batch number
written by hand. The initial inspiration was a friend's challenge to
produce something good from some dried, unsellable buds, and he
certainly has: The bars have the lustre and snap of properly made
confections and come in combinations such as dark chocolate with
hazelnut pralines, cookies and cream and white chocolate with matsu
matcha tea.

They are also as much about science as style, costing $10 to $20 and
offering either 100 or 200 mg of THC, the key psychoactive component
of marijuana. That specificity is appealing, since nothing is more
important when ingesting edibles than controlling the dosage of

Imagine being poured a glass of wine, being told it has notes of
cherry, leather and oak. But, your host cautions, it has the alcoholic
potency of anything from zero to five glasses, all or none of which
might hit you for about half an hour. That's a metaphor for the
unpredictability of cooking with marijuana, which is one of its
classic problems.

Bring up edibles at any party and someone will tell you a story about
a bad trip, such as this one: I once ate half of a gummy and found
myself walking along the side of a highway in the suburbs of Austin,
Tex., questioning every life choice I'd ever made.

The reason this happens so frequently is because the effects of
ingesting marijuana take longer to feel than those from smoking. The
high often doesn't hit for at least 30 minutes, and it tends to last
longer, too.

It's also hard to control or estimate the potency of a product that
isn't made in monitored facilities. Still, it is possible with lab
testing to quantify the level of cannabinoids in an edible, and many
entrepreneurs aim to do so.

Each EP Infusions bar is labelled in a minimalist font such as Poiret
One or Helvetica, identifying the strain of marijuana and THC content
of the bar in milligrams. Each square of each bar contains five mg of

To be that exact, EP's chocolate maker uses a product called
distillate. It's made by extracting the essential oils of the
marijuana plant using butane oil as a solvent, which is purged through
a vacuum oven, leaving a resin that is further refined.

Through experimentation that he likens to brewing, EP's chocolate
maker has found that his customers enjoy a ratio of 10 parts THC,
which generally relaxes the brain, to one part of another cannabinoid
called CBD, which generally relaxes the body.

The distillation process serves another of the chocolate maker's aims,
which is to strip out all marijuana flavour and aroma compounds. This
has worked for the dark chocolate bar with hazelnuts, which has no
perceptible trace of marijuana scent or taste.

The white chocolate bars, however, do smell like a knapsack you
wouldn't try to take through airport security, although that may be a
good thing. Similar to sugary coolers that don't taste like vodka,
weed candy that doesn't taste like weed provides an easy way to

THC sauces are often served on the side at the High Society Supper
Club a series of multicourse private dinner events in Hamilton and
Toronto. Host Reena Rampersad wants guests to feel in control of how
much or how little they'd like to use.

But she's not one to mask the flavour of marijuana, which in baked
goods often comes across as an unmistakable musk that makes
coconut-scented sunscreen seem subtle. It's sort of like cilantro, in
that most people love it or hate it, and Rampersad is one of the former.

"It's a wonderful flavour when you bring it out with certain things.
It goes well with bitter, salty, savoury," says Rampersad, who was a
social worker in Detroit for 10 years before moving to Hamilton. "It's
a matter of experimenting. Marijuana is very complex."

She has a hard time naming a food that doesn't, in her opinion, pair
well with marijuana, eventually counting a lemon cream base, intended
for dessert, as unpleasing.

"We make an effort to pair the flavour profiles of the cannabis with
what we're cooking," says Rampersad, who considers a heady hot sauce
made with ghost, habanero, scorpion and scotch bonnet chillies as a
particular success. Another is her Pineapple Express wontons, which
have a filling of pineapple, mango and cilantro made with coconut oil
that's been infused with a strain of the plant known as Pineapple Kush.

Lida-Tuy Dinh of Toronto edibles company The Baker's Shop says her
clientele is evenly divided between those who like and dislike the
taste. "Some people like the chocolate and mint combo. It's a
traditional combo," Dinh says. "But some people hate it."

Dinh thinks that cannabis clashes with bitter flavours but pairs well
with earthy ones, and lists peaches, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and
orange zest among her favourites. She also cares about

"Things like a chocolate-chip cookie or a brownie have been done for
about a hundred years," she says. "But if you can take something like
a chocolate-chip cookie that's familiar, and add maybe some curry, or
turmeric or chai tea spice, and then pair that with cannabis, I think
the wow factor goes up."

Edibles aren't easy to get, even though a walk through any Toronto
neighbourhood shows that there are more than few entrepreneurs willing
to run grey-market dope stores (or dispensaries, as they're now meant
to be called).

In 2015, in advance of Canada's federal election and the expectation of 
eventual legalization, such dispensaries multiplied quickly overnight. 
Many disappeared in Toronto after May, 2016, when local police executed 
a series of raids as part of Project: Claudia.

Plenty of stores have since reopened, but one persistent rumour is
that law enforcement is more concerned about edibles than buds. "NO
EDIBLES FOR SALE" signs have since popped up in windows like a
talisman to ward off the cops.

So for now, edibles are mainly available in Toronto at pop-up private
events. Many of these are organized by Lisa Campbell, who holds events
with names including Green Market, Nuit Verte and Mercado Libre.

"We're showing the city what responsible industry looks like," says
Campbell, who says her events are open to adults only. "I think that
between now and when Parliament reconvenes, and when they pass the
Cannabis Act and iron out the details, now is our chance to show what
legalization could look like."

As the federal government's July, 2018, legalization deadline quickly
approaches, it's still unclear what legislation will look like. If
weed is medicine, it needs to meet drug-testing standards. If it is
food, it must be held to the same hygiene regulation as any bakery or
restaurant - meaning health inspectors showing up unannounced to make
sure that every fridge has a thermometer, flour is stored no less than
six inches off the ground and produce is never rinsed in the employee
hand-washing sink.

If it's an intoxicant, those are also regulated: All Ontario wine,
beer and liquor producers must have their products regularly tested by
the LCBO.

Since it's currently illegal to sell these products, any care
currently taken to make them is self-regulated, and as with any
business, some proprietors care and some don't. At the more mercenary
places, indifferent staff don't seem aware of retail concepts such as
product knowledge or repeat clients, and an inquisitive customer may
as well be asking about the breed of pork in the bacon bits at a
hot-dog stand.

But dispensaries truly devoted to medical marijuana generally employ
staff who will gladly talk customers through the cannabinoid content
and expected result of each product.

"We care about testing. We care about consumer safety," Campbell says
of herself and the vendors she invites to her events. That said, she's
nervous, as she's heard rumours of a nationwide crackdown this fall.

"These are the final days of fun." For the moment, fun is about all
that's being generated.

None of these businesses is producing a sizable profit yet - the focus
now is are developing products, brands and a consumer base, in advance
of the possibility of operating legally.

"We've all been doing it as a hobby. But we've been building an
industry," Rampersad says. "When they allow us to move forward, to
employ people, to open up shop and apply for licenses, we're all
ready. We've been doing it for fun. And we're ready to do it for real."
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MAP posted-by: Matt