Brownies and beer: How edible cannabis businesses plan to cash in on legalization
By Salma Ibrahim, CBC News
FEBRUARY 13, 2018
When Amy Anonymous first started making online baking tutorials, it was a far cry from the esthetic glory of cooking videos today.
Shot with an amateur camera in her kitchen, the clips only captured her hands and the bowl she used, obscuring all identifiers from chiding eyes.
Such was the status quo for an expert weed baker circa 2005.
"I was a new mom and I didn't want to lose my freedom for helping people," she told CBC News.
Fast forward a few years, legal recreational pot is only months away — maybe — and Amy "no-longer-anonymous" Brown is firmly entrenched in Toronto's cannabis canon.
She now has cooking tutorials, face in full view, on the Trailer Park Boys' website Swearnet. She bakes baskets of weed edibles for celebrities and teaches cooking classes for patients who use medical cannabis.
That's all expertise that puts her in the perfect position to take a bite out of one of the cannabis industry's most promising opportunities.
Despite health and safety concerns, "edibles and non-flower products are the ultimate end game for cannabis," said Miles Light, co-founder of the Colorado-based think-tank, Marijuana Policy Group.
He argues that many "big marijuana" licensed producers have already eaten up much of the opportunity in cannabis production in Canada, leaving the edibles market as a much less crowded niche for newer or smaller businesses.
While the Cannabis Act, currently before the Senate, will not initially legalize the sale of edibles, it will allow adults to make their own at home, provided no "dangerous organic solvents are used in the process."
A 2017 study by Dalhousie University found that 46 per cent of Canadians said they would try cannabis-infused food products if they became available on the market, and 39 per cent would be willing to try it in a restaurant. But only 20 per cent said that they knew enough about cooking with cannabis to do it at home.
That's an opportunity for baking experts like Brown.
In her home-visit cooking classes, Brown says the first question students ask is, "Will it smell?"
"Cooked cannabis kind of smells nutty and piney so when you're doing this in your house, be prepared," she said. "It's going to smell beautiful but you're going to know something's going on in there that's not normal cooking."
The nutty fumes won't, however, get you high, Brown says.
'Over the edge'
Typically, another big concern is dosage.
"If you are new to cannabis, you are not going to want to eat a full one-gram cookie," she warned. "That may take you over the edge."
The Cannabis Act will allow possession of up to 30 grams of dried flower in public, and equates one gram of dried with 15 grams of edibles and 70 grams of the liquid product.
Brown says explaining the delay before edibles kick in is also a must.
"[The effect of] smoking lasts one to two hours. Eating takes about one hour to take effect but the effects last between two and eight hours," she said.
"For some with a slower metabolism, it can last up to 24 hours."
Beer from cannabis
That's a phenomenon entrepreneur Dooma Wendshuch has found a way to manipulate. He plans to make the world's first beer brewed wholly from cannabis.
"People have been experimenting for many years by substituting hops with marijuana," he said. "We did something totally different which is to find a way to brew a beer from the cannabis plant itself."
He says his company, Province Brands, has no plans to mix cannabis and alcohol, but rather to create a whole new psychoactive drink.
The company has devised a way to have the intoxicant kick in earlier and fade sooner, "just like alcohol," he says.
Wendschuh gives credit to the countless nights spent drinking himself "silly" with friends during his college days at Princeton University as inspiration for the product.
"When I look back at it now I realize I was shortening my lifespan," he explained. "I believe cannabis can be a safer and healthier alternative."
The problem with conventional weed, he argues, is convenience and the eternal northern problem: brisk temperatures.
"People didn't want to step outside and roll a joint, especially in Canada where its cold half the year, didn't want to learn how to use a vaporizer, didn't want to eat a 400-calorie cookie," he said.
His idea was first met with doubt from "top master brewers around the world," he says.
"They laughed and said it was impossible. They said 'to brew a beer, you need barley, you need the grains which have carbohydrates which you can mash into sugars and the sugars can turn into alcohol. Cannabis doesn't have any carbohydrates.'"
"But we didn't let that stop us," he said. "We developed a process that uses the waste stream from the marijuana industry."
The company which conducts its research and development in Colorado, where pot is legal, will use parts of the cannabis plant that aren't being used in the smokeables industry and which can't be thrown away because it's a controlled substance.
"We can take it off their hands and turn it into a delicious tasting beer," he says.
Wendschuch says his product is ready to hit the shelves in 2019 when the government plans to legalize edibles.
He says he has already bought an 80,000 square-foot brewery in Ontario to get started.
An expansion that will likely pay off, according to Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy professor at Dalhousie University and a co-author of the study about cannabis‑infused food.
"Down the road, I suspect that people will look at cannabis as a superfood of sorts and could be endorsed by celebrities and we could see a new phenomena emerging over time," he said.