Michigan takes bite out of medical pot foods with bans on infused butter, cheesecake, jerky

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Marijuana for sale at Bloom City marijuana dispensary in Ann Arbor. The questions local officials are grappling with include how many dispensaries to allow, where they can be located and what other limitations should be placed on their operations.

Hummus laced with marijuana is off the menu. So is pot-tinged banana cream pie, cheesecake and frosting.

Michigan's cannabis chefs will be restricted to certain foods under new emergency rules from the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation, a development that has some medical pot advocates disgruntled.

But marijuana-infused popcorn can grace the shelves of newly licensed provisioning centers. The same goes for marijuana graham crackers, marshmallows and granola.

Largely, anything that is “shelf-stable” and does not require refrigeration can be sold as an edible medical marijuana product, according to a state bulletin released last week that so far only affects two medical marijuana processors.

The lists of approved and prohibited forms of edible medical marijuana in the bulletin is not exhaustive, but should serve as a guide for “good, safe product,” spokesman David Harns said. He noted that the rules apply to processors for items they prepare and sell, not to items people make at home.

The bulletin lists several examples of what constitutes banned refrigerated foods, including meat and fish products, milk or dairy products, ice cream, vegetable jams or jellies, canned fruit, melon, tomatoes, caramel apples and leafy greens.

Among those items that can be made and sold on the state’s infant medical marijuana market: fruit jams and jellies, granola, chocolate-covered pretzels, dried pasta, coffee beans and vinegars.

The state will require proof of additional processing for certain products, including marijuana-infused salad dressings, sauces, beverages, pickled products and salsa.

The elimination of any refrigerated or frozen goods “significantly restricts the number of ways patients can purchase their medicine from provisioning centers,” said Rick Thompson, editor and publisher of the Michigan Cannabis Industries Report.

“From a patient perspective, there is a more friendly way to view the rules than the way they’re doing it; it’s possible more leeway could be applied,” he said.

But the banning of butter is what most curdles the hearts of the medical marijuana industry. Medical pot patients use cannabis butter on items that range from toast to brownies, Thompson said.

“That eliminates one of the main ingredients used in an awful lot of cannabis treatments,” he said.

The emergency rules come as voters prepare to consider in November a ballot measure that would legalize recreational use of marijuana. Under the proposal, residents residents age 21 years and older could generally carry up to 2.5 ounces of the drug or possess up to 10 ounces in their homes, but smoking would not be allowed on public sidewalks.

A national group that opposes legalizing marijuana worries that expanding edible and sugared forms of pot poses a danger to children and adults alike.

“This has nothing to do with the vote in November, which would allow ice creams and candies and sodas to be infused with pot," said Kevin Sabet, president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

"The real question is, why are we allowing products such as 99-percent, THC-infused candies, gummies, jellies and concentrates to be allowed at all in Michigan? All of these end up being accidentally ingested by children and adults. Skyrocketing emergency room visits in states such as Colorado are being driven by these edibles.” 

A study of marijuana-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits was compiled in 2015 by the Colorado Department of Public Health. It found that emergency room visits grew from 2012 to 2014, but dropped in 2015.

But marijuana-related hospitalization increased from 2001 to 2015, according to the study with information compiled from Colorado Hospital Association billing codes.

Among the 16 medical marijuana operating licenses the state of Michigan has granted so far, two have been to processors, which will be affected by the new edible medical marijuana rules.

Operating facilities that applied for licenses prior to Feb. 15 have until Sept. 15 to obtain their licenses before the state begins issuing cease-and-desist letters.

As of Aug. 9, the state had approved 51 of 637 pre-qualification applications and denied 23. Of the 347 applications for state operating licenses, 16 had been approved and two denied.

The emergency rules for processing centers are separate from the permanent regulations, which will have public hearings before they’re finalized in the fall.


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