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The New Frontier of Marijuana Edibles Regulation

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Photo:lollyman/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Despite how it may seem at many house parties, California does not have the most relaxed laws when it comes to marijuana possession. If you don't have a medical marijuana card and are caught with one ounce or less of pot -- which, in actuality, is a pretty substantial amount -- you can be fined up to $100. As far as leniency goes, there's no safer place to possess pot than in Colorado and Washington, both which legalized recreational marijuana usage last year.

With those two states taking the lead as they enter the brave new world of legalization, it makes sense to pay attention to how they're handling it. The latest issue being taken under consideration? Food regulation.

You're probably already aware that pot isn't just for smoking anymore. Dispensaries look more like a corner grocery store. The aisles and shelves are full of brownies, cookies, chips, even baklava, all laced with the potent THC that gives the products that extra something special.

Until Colorado and Washington went full-blown legalization, the general regulation standard for edibles was "buyer beware." If you get sick, it's your own fault. This mentality, however, doesn't provide the community with the credibility it's seeking:

Food safety testing is necessary "to building any sort of credibility for the industry ... to create that public confidence that we're not just a bunch of stupid kids throwing marijuana into cookies and putting them on the market," said Jazzmine Hall-Oldham, general manager of Bakked, which makes cannabis concentrates and pot-infused chocolate bars.

Regulation not only means the actual amount of pot contained inside of the edibles -- Colorado is already working towards creating a definition of what a "reasonable amount of pot" in edibles is -- but also how to keep the food from becoming contaminated with nasty things like E. coli and salmonella. But seeing as both states are operating without federal assistance in this case (marijuana is still technically illegal in the country, so groups like the FDA can't help regulate), the states have to create a patchwork of their own laws and regulation boards.

Colorado is working towards requiring that pot-making facilities keep to the same standards as normal food makers, meaning categories like proper hand-washing technique and necessary refrigeration process will be checked off by inspectors before the companies are allowed to sell. (The regulations don't go into effect until the fall, however, meaning it's still "buyer beware" until then.) Washington, on the other hand, is taking things a step further by requiring all packaging get approval by a state regulation board; cartoon characters and imagery of toys are banned in the hopes that kids won't be enticed into trying to get their hands on the edibles.

Another fun thing to watch is how copyright cases are being handled. Until now, edible makers didn't have to pay attention to the corporate entities they mimicked, since they were selling their wares under the cover of darkness. Not anymore. Earlier this month, Hershey's sued an edibles maker in Colorado who, in their opinion, was making something that too closely resembled their product. Depending on how the case goes, it could open up the floodgates. Which, depending on how you look at it, could essentially put corporate candy companies in the business of getting a portion of their profits from drug sales.

It's all fascinating stuff. It's rare we're able to watch an entire industry grow into legitimization like this. And if the regulations and protocols work in Colorado and Washington -- and, you know, people don't lose their minds and go on insane crime sprees -- then California will surely consider getting in on the next round of legalization. And as the old saying goes, as California goes, so goes the nation.

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