Why You Won’t See Infused Ice Cream in Canada Any Time Soon
After Health Canada unveiled edibles regulations on June 14
, there was much discussion surrounding the date at which edible products will hit the market, and their possible appeal to young people.
But little was said about a stipulation that will keep an entire category of cannabis edibles out of the hands of consumers.
The new regulations require all edible cannabis products to be shelf-stable. That means items that require refrigeration or freezing in order to be consumed are verboten.
No doubt about it, these regulations represent an obstacle to many businesses who were banking on bringing perishable cannabis edibles
to the Canadian market. According to many industry insiders, however, this obstacle is not insurmountable.
In prohibiting perishable goods from being brought to market, these new regulations—which are seen by many as too restrictive
—also prevent the development of the special infrastructure needed to make that happen: a so-called cold chain that includes everything from preparation, packaging, and storage to retail holding and display.
In this way, the ban on perishables constitutes a missed opportunity for economic growth. It is unfortunate, but not all is lost.
Some industry stakeholders welcome the regulations in a broad sense, believing they help ensure that quality edibles are introduced to the market while keeping them out of the hands of young people. (The regulations call for child resistant packaging and plain labelling.)
“The government’s core values regarding cannabis are reflected in these regulations,” Samuel Bouabane of Cannabis Compliance
, an Ontario-based cannabis consulting firm, told Leafly. “Consistency is good.”
Bouabane acknowledged that regulations are limiting, but said companies that had been planning to bring perishables to market could thrive—if they pivot.
For example, he said, a cannabis company that was planning to bring Freezies (frozen sugar water) to market could sell them at room temperature, and leave it to the consumer to decide whether to ingest them that way or to freeze them before eating.
“You just have to think outside the box a little bit,” he said.
Will the industry get creative?
Red Seal chef John MacNeil
, who specializes in cannabis-infused cooking, agrees that necessity is the mother of invention.
“You could take food items that are traditionally perishable and make them shelf-stable. It just requires some creativity,” he told Leafly.
To start, you could use preserved ingredients instead of fresh ones in preparing a food item, said MacNeil, who is the corporate chef at Zenabis
, a licensed Canadian cannabis producer. As one example, he noted, coconut oil
could be used instead of butter
“You decide on the desired outcome of a food item in terms of taste and texture and find a way to obtain it,” he continued. “It’s a matter of who is preparing the dish, how it’s made, and what the combination of ingredients is. I once made a dessert that tasted like apple pie but was made of eggplant, and it tasted great. Anything is possible.”
As proof that the restriction on perishables is not an impregnable barrier, look no further than California, says David Downs
, former cannabis editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and current California bureau chief for Leafly.
After medical cannabis was legalized in the Golden State in 1996, “there was a Cambrian explosion in the flora and fauna of perishable edibles,” he said, pointing to products such as Chocowaska, a cannabis-infused hemp milk, weed pizza, and sushi. However, the perishables market crumbled after the state banned them in 2017. (The ban also applied to recreational cannabis items, which were introduced to the California market in early 2018.)
Some resourceful retailers switched gears and started selling shelf-stable preparations that consumers could use to make perishables at home. Infused baking ingredients are now incredibly popular, said Downs, who has also written several books about cannabis.
Fully Baked was one of the many California-based companies that changed course. The company manufactured cannabis-infused ice cream until it was banned. Leaving Vanilla Kush and their other cold creations behind, the owners, Alex Zafrin and Rekka Nicholson, went back into the kitchen and came out with a new line of compliant cannabis sweets, including chocolate cookies and pretzel bark.
“Who knows where this ban on perishables will lead,” said MacNeil of Zenabis. We may end up seeing new types of edibles on the Canadian market down the road. “It all comes down to creativity.”
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