Regulating the coming $40 million Maine cannabis edibles market

  • Written by Francis J. Boero Ph.D., CFS Partner, Gavenum LLC
  • Published in Homegrown In Maine
Based on two years of experience in Washington and Colorado, Maine consumers and legislators should prepare for an active and vibrant cannabis edibles industry by 2019. The projected Maine edibles marketplace, correcting for population and income, could see 70 or more new companies selling nearly $5 million in the first year after commercialization. Maine’s entrepreneurial food culture would supply legal-age consumers with over 200 new edibles products while adding nearly half a million dollars in state tax revenue. Achieving this significant growth in Maine’s local economy requires a regulatory framework that respects responsible consumption, provides for consumer safety, and allows the spirit of entrepreneurship to flourish within realistic constraints. 
A first step in building a rational edibles framework is to reject the ‘high-times stoner’ stereotype. Recent market surveys by Headset Inc., a consumer research organization, show the opposite. The average cannabis consumer is older, 37+, and earns a good income, spending about $800 per year on recreational cannabis. Their tastes are varied and evolving. Nearly 50 percent of their purchases are for non-smoke products, the fastest growing segment being edibles. In summary, they are everyday consumers and regulations must respect this. Clearly, Harold and Kumar (or Cheech and Chong) have left the building. 
A second recognition is that Medical Marijuana (MMJ) edibles are not consumer cannabis edibles. An MMJ dispensary that bakes a cannabis cake for certified patients is making medicine, not a treat. That MMJ cake or cookie may have 8-10 times the recreational dose of 10mg; a registered patient would know to spread the cookie out over one week to get the relief they need. Now, imagine a naïve recreational user’s surprise (and discomfort) if they eat two cookies in one sitting. Recreational edibles should require full labeling of both dose and serving size. Ideally, package sizes should be closer to typical food serving sizes. The recent FDA updates to serving sizes (21 CFR 101.12) are a useful basis from which to develop regulations. 
Cannabis edibles consumers and manufacturers deserve pure and consistent ingredients. Without a clear quality framework, doses will vary, edibles will have differing appearances from batch to batch, and many commercial recipes will not even work. Maine’s proposed statute is comprehensive and will require THC, purity, pesticide, and contaminant testing. However, the current statute is vague on licensing for THC containing food ingredients. For example, commercial kitchens routinely use products not available at the retail level. Already, food scientists have responded with processes for infusing THC into sugar, food starch, and other ingredients solely intended for commercial manufacturing. Maine legislators should clarify regulations for ingredient sales as well as maintain the proposed tax to only the final retail products. 
Safety must continue to be the primary concern. Childproof packaging, proper labeling, food safety, and open consumer information are essential for a responsible market. The consumer must expect information on allergens, the dose contained, and the recommended serving size. Fortunately, Maine has considered many of these in the proposed act. Regulations should be maintained and evolve, keeping aligned with the FDA and state food labeling requirements. 
ArcView Market Research estimates that the US recreational cannabis market will grow eight-fold in the next five years, reaching nearly $15 billion in 2021. Six billion is estimated to be in recreational edibles. Maine’s share of this market would grow accordingly, to $40 million in annual edible sales. Maine’s legislature can enact a consistent and responsible regulatory framework now, to protect the consumer and allow Maine’s food entrepreneurs to innovate for the benefit of their communities and our economy. 
Last modified onTuesday, 28 February 2017 16:49