Counting calories

Pub date September 28, 2011

HERBWISE An old factory sits in the outskirts of Oakland. In decades past, this building produced name brand snacks, but the smell of baking still permeates the factory air.

And weed. It smells like weed too. Bhang Chocolate churns out medicinal marijuana sweets here, bars that are smartly packaged in Bhang’s sleek black, orange, and green boxes that are a far cry from the plain wax envelopes and saran wrap that most marijuana edibles used to be sold in. The company is part of the current expansion in edible products — these days, patients can buy medicated cheesecakes, and even savory trail mix.

Adjacent to Bhang’s factory floor, about ten marijuana edibles producers are listening to a man talk about quality control for weed food. Robert Martin, Ph.D., worked for years in corporate food product development and quality assurance. He tells the class his specialty was frozen foods.

Martin is the co-founder of C.W. Analytical, a business that consults marijuana producers and has cannabis testing facilities. A patient himself, he says that marijuana-medicated foods are technically subject to all the same guidelines for commercially-produced non-pot products, although actual enforcement is sparse. C.W. offers these classes for free to interested entrepreneurs. They teach professional skills and serve as an introduction to the for-sale services the business provides.

The students are being treated to quality assurance fail stories from Martin’s career in the corporate world. A sherbet producer he once knew bought a wildly expensive machine to make fudge bars, but when he failed to make the proper tests on his treats, they caused a nasty spate of diarrhea in consumers and he ended up losing his shirt.

“That’s the kind of crap that can happen to you guys,” cautions Martin, and starts reading from a tongue-in-cheek guide to how you can tell food has gone bad. “Flour is spoiled when it wiggles,” he reads. This is quality assurance humor. “I love this stuff!”

One of the day’s students Lacey (not her real name) says she learned a lot from the class that she’ll be able to implement in her own business, Laced Cakes Bakery. She’s been making prettily iced cannabis cookies and brownies since 2007 and has seen the industry requirements shift dramatically.

“Years ago, you could just bring down a tray [to a dispensary] and drop it off,” she says. Nowadays, to sell in San Francisco she has to package the sweets in opaque material and make sure that the design can’t be interpreted as too appealing to kids. “The laws keep changing.”

She had heard about C.W. Analytical at some of the cannabis expos she’s been a vendor at — the firm will have a booth at next weekend’s West Coast Cannabis Expo as well — and was happy that the class was offered for free. She hadn’t finalized her opinion, however, on Martin’s suggestion that producers get their foods analyzed by the company so that they can put nutrition labels on their packaging. “It seems like they might just be trying to make money off of us,” she mused. 


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