At Edible-Weed Companies, Chefs Can’t Taste Their Pot Brownies

Oct 27, 2014 at 8:38 AM ET

If you work at a company that makes popcorn or chocolate bars, you probably get a steady supply of free snacks.

We wondered: Does the same hold true at edible marijuana companies? Are employees allowed to snack on weed-infused chocolates as they fill out expense reports? Can they sip cannabis energy drinks while doing sales projections? At the very least, can cannabis chefs working in the test labs “test out” the supply?

The answer, in short, is no. A very serious no.

“It’s not like a beer company where everyone gets a case a month,” says Joe Hodas, the marketing director for Dixie Elixirs, Colorado’s largest marijuana edibles company.

In fact, it’s written into law that employees at these edible companies are forbidden from consuming edibles while on the job. According to Hodas, employees can’t even try the products in the parking lots. They must take them home.

Colorado first allowed the sale of cannabis edibles at the beginning of this year, and the high demand was immediately obvious: Within the first day, many retailers sold out of inventory. The edibles come in all forms, from hot chocolate and peanut brittle to spicy mixed nuts, olive oil and beef jerky. More and more retailers are entering this market, but they face a ton of regulations. In addition to the “no consumption” rule, every cannabis company needs to implement a “seed-to-sale” system that tracks all marijuana seeds in the facility, lest they wander off in an employee’s pocket.

At a typical food startup, you would hire employees to sample the products and adjust the flavor or texture where needed. But that’s totally illegal in this case.

“At an edible company, you can’t taste anything,” says Drew Strickler, a manager at Colorado Cannabis Company, an edible and infused product manufacturer. “You can’t even taste it while you’re making it to see what it tastes like. They got cameras linked to the state, and they have laws that we’re not allowed to. If it’s in the kitchen, it’s off-limits.”

According to one cannabis edible entrepreneur, most companies first make a snack without infusing it with THC and sample it that way. Once it’s infused with the THC, employees can no longer try it on-site. At home, the testers sometimes find that the THC has screwed up the batch—which means they must go back to the drawing board. That’s why the whole process takes longer than at a typical food company.

Like any nascent and semi-controversial industry, the cannabis edible market is facing some serious heat (i.e. regulation) right now. Earlier this week, Colorado’s Department of Public Health recommended limiting the sale of edibles. At one point, Colorado health authorities suggested banning edibles altogether. The suggestion came after two people died who had consumed some weed edibles. One of the victims, a 19-year-old student, ate a marijuana cookie and jumped to his death from a hotel balcony. 

Right now, though, the edibles market is focused on developing the perfect-tasting snacks. It’s just hard when you can’t even try out the product you’re making.

“The way the rules read, you cannot consume on-site,” says Bob Eschino, a founder of Medically Correct, which makes a line of cannabis edibles. “Our employees can’t smoke on site, they can’t consume on-site.”

As Eschino explains, “There’s not a bunch of people just sitting around getting high and then working.”