The Cannabis Conundrum:
Is Grass GRAS?
Marijuana poses high hurdle
for food regulators, testers
Food processors and regulators at the state and local levels are facing a situation that people never envisioned a mere 10 years ago. And that situation is legalization of marijuana and how it will be dispensed. Marijuana advocates in Washington and Colorado, two states that have legalized the
substance, envision that pot will be sold in different
foods: cookies, brownies, cakes, beverages and other
vehicles. Since the U.S. Justice Department is not amenable to enforcing federal law with regards to marijuana,
the burden of enforcement is in limbo. Should it be
handed over to the states? In fact, there have been ongoing debates between the different government branches
on several related issues. Among the questions that have
been debated are: “Should operations producing and
dispensing marijuana be treated as food processors?” or
“Should such operations be ignored and be allowed to
operate without regulatory oversight?”
Who Will Regulate?
Reports from Washington State indicate that poten-
How Will Foods Containing
tial processors of marijuana-containing products are lin-
ing up to enter the field. The question of enforcement
has been answered there. Discussions between the gov-
ernor and the Washington State Department of Agricul-
ture, the agency responsible for monitoring the state’s
food processors, have determined that this new industry
must be regulated and that foods with marijuana should
be treated like other foods, that is, they are subject to
the same regulatory requirements. Now, this could well
be a challenge for both processors and
regulators. Why? Many of the operators
that want to get into producing foods
incorporating marijuana are not experi-
enced food processors. They don’t know
about food safety, sanitation, vendor
quality or the myriad other things a
processor must know. These people will
need to be trained in all these areas and
then they will need to put this training
into practice. Putting these elements
into actual practice means developing,
documenting and implementing pro-
cedures in each and every one of these
areas. The role of public health offi-
cials is obviously to protect the public
health, and there are basic rules under
which food processors must operate.
These potential new operators need to
follow all the rules and regulations that
the state’s current processors follow.
Marijuana Be Labeled?
Processors selling foods and beverages containing marijuana will have to
label what they are producing. Their
products will require an ingredients
statement and a nutrition facts statement, but will the label require a statement of how potent the marijuana in
that item is?
Let’s first look at the ingredients
statement. Foods must be labeled as
defined in the food labeling regulations.
Ingredients must be listed in order of
prominence, so the ingredients statement must contain something that defines the marijuana. Will the proper label be “marijuana” or should it be “
cannabis?” One doubts that words such as
“ganja,” “pot,” “weed,” “wacky tabaccy,”
“hooch” or any of the many other
names for marijuana will be acceptable.
Therefore, regulators will need to establish an acceptable name. Producers can’t
mislead the public by using a name that
everyone does not understand.
Should the future sellers be even
By Richard F. Stier