Marijuana edibles on a rocky road to food safety assurances
As the first marijuana specialist for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment — and therefore the first marijuana specialist for a public health authority in the entire nation — she disposed of $28 million dollars of cannabis products in 2016 alone. Why? Because she found them out of compliance with her health department’s regulations and requirements.
On the other side of the coin, she’s known for saving companies millions of dollars in potential losses by pointing out where they’re not in compliance. This, in turn, allows them to fix the problems, get their house in order, and sell their smokable and edible products.
She is Kimberly Stuck and she is all about food safety. As a public health investigator for the Denver health department for more than three years, she worked as a food safety specialist. In that job, she inspected restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, festivals, farmers markets, and dispensaries. A certified Professional of Food Safety, she is also HACCP certified and ServeSafe Certified.
From there, she went on to become a marijuana specialist for the department. In that job, she inspected cultivation operations, marijuana-infused product facilities, and dispensaries. She also conducted contaminated marijuana product investigations, which she says took up most of her days. Court appearances, product testing for pesticide contamination, recalls and product destruction were all part of the job.
“It is very exciting to work as a marijuana investigator,” she said in a LinkedIn post. “In an industry that has never existed before, I am constantly finding new challenges and learning something new.”
One thing she learned as a marijuana specialist for Denver is that there is a great deal of confusion and a huge need for expertise in the industry. Convinced that she could save cannabis companies millions of dollars by informing them of preventative measures they could take, which in the end would also protect consumers, she went out on her own and launched Allay Cannabis Consulting.
Allay’s goal “is to help the cannabis industry thrive on a global scale,” according to the company’s website.
According to stats from Arcview’s midyear update to its fifth edition of “The State of Legal Marijuana Markets, the spending on legal cannabis in North America was $7.3 billion in 2016 and will post 33 percent growth in 2017 to $9.7 billion. Analysts expect it to then grow at a 28 percent compound annual rate to reach $24.5 billion in 2021.
Currently, nine states allow the sale of recreational marijuana and 29 allow the sale of medical marijuana. Proposals are being floated in other states as legislatures are keen to capture tax revenues from this booming industry.
Mass confusion defines laws for edibles
Each state has different regulations for recreational and medical marijuana, some of which are still being crafted. For example, Kansas, Idaho and South Dakota do not allow edibles, either for recreational or medical reasons. In Washington state, adults 21 and over can buy medical and recreational edibles and concentrates. California and Colorado also allow recreational and medical edibles.
In all of this, what concerns Stuck the most is that many health departments aren’t regulating edible marijuana the way they should be — or at all.
In Denver, she said, as soon as recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, the city’s health department “got on it right away.” But the state’s health department isn’t looking at edibles as food, so except in Denver, very few local or county health departments have signed off on regulating marijuana edibles for food safety.
Stuck is concerned about food safety issues, especially in edible medical marijuana products. Many health conditions include suppression of the immune system, making pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and molds particularly dangerous to people who consume medical marijuana in edible forms.
Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half of the 50 states, but there were virtually no regulations about controlling pathogens when the trend began. Some states have made advances in tightening up their regulations. But, others still don’t have regulations.
“It was happening in states like California, Oregon, Nevada, and Hawaii,” Stuck said. “It’s the Wild West out here. It’s crazy.”
Stuck said that food safety standards should cover everything from employee hygiene, to food handling, to temperature control requirements, and all other steps of producing, packaging, holding and selling. While some counties have regular health department inspections, others are still working toward that.
As a consultant, she urges manufacturers to take a proactive approach, pointing out that upgrading to good food safety standards now can reduce the risk of outbreaks, hefty fines, or even closure.
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