Cannabis edibles are coming to Maryland. Here's how product makers are preparing.
Aneesh Nair | Published November 06, 2020 11:27:33 AM | Industry

Cannabis edibles are coming to Maryland. Here's how product makers are preparing.

Regulations allowing for the manufacturing and sale of edible cannabis products in Maryland may be confirmed as soon as December, and state producers are gearing up to bring a new array of medical marijuana-infused foods to market.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) has finalized a set of draft regulations around how edibles, or medical cannabis-infused foods and beverages, will be made and sold in Maryland. The regulations are currently available on the Maryland Register website for a 30-day public comment period.

Taylor Kasky, director of the MMCC's office of policy and government affairs, said after any necessary adjustments are made to the regulations following the comment period, the rules will be resubmitted for a final 15-day notice period. The commission anticipates the regulations will be finalized and cannabis companies will be able to begin manufacturing edibles by late December or early January, Kasky said.

In the meantime, processors are building up operations and working closely with state regulators to ensure they are ready to produce edible products in line with the regulations. If Maryland's consumers respond like those in other states with legal medical and recreational cannabis-infused items for sale, edibles could represent up to 30% of the entire state market in years to come.

Mackie Barch, president of Culta, said his company's Eastern Shore-based cannabis growing and processing operation is preparing by adding capacity to an existing kitchen space in its facility. Barch said Culta built its $10 million facility several years ago to include the kitchen, with the expectation that edibles may one day be allowed in Maryland. But in the last four years, the consumer base has grown significantly — to more than 117,000 patients — and Culta has to add more capacity in order to meet demand, he said.

"Getting into food manufacturing or beverage manufacturing requires very different tools and skillsets than we have had in the industry so far," Barch said. "Entirely new spaces are required for food manufacturing and there are very specific rules about how the rooms have to be designed... A lot of people are going to have to go back and redesign their facilities to get ready for this."

Barch did not disclose how much Culta has invested in building out and expanding its edibles-making capacity. The cost burden can vary depending on what kinds of edibles companies plan to produce, he said, but the special machinery and equipment needed to produce edible products "can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Other processors are also expanding their operations ahead of the launch of Maryland's edibles program.

Craig Schulman, chairman of Evermore Cannabis Co., said his company recently took over a large commercial catering operation in Baltimore County and has been working to retrofit that facility to house Evermore's edibles operations. Schulman declined to disclose the name of the catering business or how much his company has spent acquiring and renovating the new space. He said Evermore is working closely with MMCC representatives to make sure the new facility will satisfy state regulations.

Wendy Bronfein, co-founder of Curio Wellness, said her firm has made additional investments in its $20 million Lutherville-Timonium growing and processing operation over the past two years in order to become certified under federal Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations. The CGMP certification shows Curio meets quality and safety standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the methods, facilities and controls used in manufacturing and distributing a drug product.

Bronfein said because of its previous investment in its CGMP status, Curio does not have to make any major changes to current manufacturing practices to meet the new state safety standards for producing edibles.

Curio already makes and markets consumable cannabis products like chewables, tablets and elixirs, and Evermore has grown a sizable demand for its Discos soft gel lozenges. Kasky said many processors have already been making and distributing certain orally ingestible products.

Previously, these have been permitted under regulations that differentiate products containing medicinal drugs, like how gummy vitamins are classified differently by regulators than gummy candies, she explained. But they will now fall under the category of edibles as defined in the new regulations. The new definition also expands the types of edibles Maryland companies are allowed to produce to include food items like chocolates or baked goods, Kasky said.

Bronfein and Schulman expect to see continued and heightened demand for their existing products as edibles become a larger part of the Maryland market. Both firms will also be looking into producing other kinds of edible products in demand. For example, Schulman said Evermore plans to make cannabis chocolates.

"We're excited to produce what we’re making now at a much larger scale, and to bring some new things to the market," Schulman said. "There's really no limit to what we can do once the new kitchen is up and running."

There is another important step involved in bringing edibles to the Maryland market: patient education. Barch said edibles work differently in the body than other kinds of cannabis products, like vaporizers. It is common for people, especially those trying edibles for the first time, to consume too much and have a poor experience.

"I like to to call it the 'tequila effect.' It's like if you're a new drinker and decide to drink a whole bottle of tequila one night and have a really bad experience," Mackie said. "If someone has a bad experience with edibles, they will probably never try them again. It's important to really educate customers about these products and make sure they take things slow."

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