Cooking with Marijuana Is Not So Easy

Man wearing apron and whisking eggs and powder


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The recent wave of state laws legalizing marijuana has raised questions regarding the regulation of cannabis edibles. Pot-infused foods are nothing new; ancient Chinese emperors were known to brew cannabis-infused teas. But for most places in the U.S., being able to buy edibles at a legal retail establishment is unheard of. Despite fewer barriers to obtaining medical and even recreational marijuana, this situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. State regulations, including those in Illinois, and decades-long bans on marijuana research have made it incredibly difficult to legally cook with pot.

Illinois was 1 of 20 states to allow the legal purchase of medical marijuana in 2013. In January 2020, Illinois will become the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana.  With more states changing their marijuana laws every year, it may not be too long before marijuana is legal in some form nationwide.

The legalization of recreational marijuana has encouraged a number of enterprising individuals to embrace the retail possibilities for cannabis-infused edibles. Mindy Segal, a celebrated Illinois chef, is one such businessperson eagerly awaiting the new law to take effect. According to a recent article, Segal has partnered with Cresco Labs, Illinois’s largest cannabis cultivator, to develop a line of cannabis-infused edibles available statewide. Of course, Segal’s plans have long pushed the boundary of Illinois state regulations, which do not allow individuals to test medicated recipes.

Segal’s ability to develop her recipes was further hampered by her inability to get a medical cannabis card. So, even if she creates her signature cannabis-infused chocolate treats, toffee-and-smoked-almond brittle, and peanut butter-peanut brittle, she wouldn’t be able to legally taste them. To circumvent Illinois law, Segal traveled to Denver, Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for several years. There, she began to develop her line of cannabis-infused baked goods in order to get a degree of consistency across every batch.

Segal’s edibles may be the first in the state to be sold retail, but she is not the first celebrity to introduce branded marijuana products in the country. Segal’s products will join celebrity brands such as Snoop Dogg’s “Leafs by Snoop,” Wiz Khalifa’s line of pot products, and Waka Flocka Flame’s upcoming line of vegan weed treats. However, Segal will be the first chef to enter the retail cannabis edible market despite having a number of regulatory hoops to jump through before her plans can become reality.

Segal’s ability to negotiate through these regulations remains untested at this point, since the Illinois law won’t go into effect until January 2020. However, the difficulties involved in producing commercial cannabis edibles in states like California may offer a glimpse of what is to come. Despite California’s fairly liberal recreational marijuana laws, making edibles for retail sale requires both local and state edible licenses. Roughly 65% of cities and counties in California have banned commercial cannabis kitchens. Those that do allow cannabis kitchen licenses require that production occurs in specific zones which encompass just one percent of available commercial space.

California regulations further require properties selected for use in cannabis edible production to meet extremely specific building requirements. For example, to meet regulations, a cannabis micro business in California must have a break room, changing facilities, bathrooms, and separate storage areas. There must also be an entrance and exit for customers. This rules out any kind of mobile food truck or kiosk-type setup, which is how many brands get their start.

Additionally, there are the taxes and fees. In California, a cannabis edibles storefront will pay $1,000 per year plus an additional $4,000 – $72,000 annually depending on sales volume. Aggregated with ordinary business operating expenses such as rent, utilities, and security, it becomes clear that starting an edibles business is not only extremely difficult, but extremely expensive as well.

There is nothing to indicate whether or not such regulations will be standard in Illinois once the new law goes into effect. As illustrated by California’s regulatory system, state and local governments have numerous ways to restrict the production and sale of legal cannabis edibles. As a result, entering the cannabis edible business is beyond the reach of most would-be entrepreneurs. Law enforcement and legislators are waiting for the changes to take hold, with uncertainty as to how recreational marijuana use will impact public safety. For now, all that is certain is that time and additional regulations will ultimately tell the rest of this story.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.