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Sipping and tripping: The growing market for weed-infused edibles

August 27, 2014, 10:38 PM UTC
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Marijuana plants.
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Legal sales of recreational marijuana in Washington state kicked off in July. But edible pot products like cookies and oils didn’t hit the shelves until earlier this month because of more strict regulations.

Now, “drinkables,” or cannabis-infused beverages, are reaching stores.

On Monday, Mirth Provisions started selling drinks that are infused with THC, or liquid marijuana extract, in several of Washington’s recreational pot shops. The Longview, Washington-based company’s products, sold under the brand name, Legal, include soda flavors like Pear Ginger and Rainier Cherry.

Mirth Provisions founder Adam Stites says beverages could be an important entryway into the marijuana market for many first-time users who might not know how to roll a joint and want to ease into the drug slowly. “It’s much more approachable, as opposed to ‘Hey, mom and dad, do you want a joint?'” Stites told KGW-TV in Portland recently.

The Legal line of THC-infused sodas is currently on sale in eight of the 22 stores in Washington approved for recreational marijuana sales. How many customers have bought the drinks in the first few days of sales is unclear.

Mirth Provisions also has plans to sell a line of cold-brewed coffees infused with cannabis – plans currently on hold because of Washington’s regulation of edible marijuana products, particularly those involving pasteurization and refrigeration. When and if the infused coffee does hit the market, though, the company says it will allow customers to “swim off into a day of work or play filled to the brim with pure joy.”

Of course, Mirth’s Legal drinks are not entirely novel, as the drinkables market has been tapped previously in Colorado, where legal recreational pot sales started in January. Cannabis drinks are also sold in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Dixie Elixirs, Colorado’s largest seller of infused products, sells treats for both the recreational and medical marijuana markets. Its lines of pot-infused candies and drinks, including sparkling juices and an Old Fashioned Sasparilla, can contain as much as 75 milligrams of THC.

There’s also California’s The Venice Cookie Company, which sells infused foods as well as drinkables like Old Fashioned Cannabis Lemonade to medical patients in that state. Las Vegas-based Canna Cola also sells a line of weed sodas – in orange, grape and other flavors – to medical dispensaries only in states where medical sales are legal.

Edibles in general have proven to be surprisingly successful in Colorado, where The Denver Post reported that Dixie Elixirs and other companies making the products were forced to move their operations to larger facilities to keep up with demand. The edible products have also been at the center of some controversy. Some critics argue that many edibles are improperly labeled and that companies don’t do enough to keep them out of the hands of curious children. Others worry that uninformed consumers face a health risk from ingesting too much THC.

A 19-year old Wyoming college student jumped to his death from a hotel balcony in Colorado after eating cannabis cookies that were purchased legally by an older friend (the minimum age to purchase pot in the state is 21). Another man in Colorado shot his wife after records showed he bought cannabis candy along with a joint (and possibly consumed other drugs).

Those events explain why Washington has taken the slow approach to allowing edible sales and also why Colorado has recently imposed new, stricter regulations regarding the potency and packaging in the state that go into effect November 1.