It's a brave new world. Recreational marijuana use is now legal in two U.S. states, and the change has given rise to multiple new industries as suppliers rush to meet the demand.
As Organic Authority has reported in the past, the culinary world has been quick to adopt cannabis as its newest ingredient, with weed pairing menus and a plethora of marijuana-infused edibles for sale.
In all the celebration (and money-making) legal marijuana enthusiasts seem to have left out one important factor: food safety. Although the federal government says food safety is a top priority, the new marijuana food industry has been excluded from the scrutiny. Why? Well it's partly because the federal government doesn't exactly agree with pot's newly legal status, and partly because the industry--while growing by leaps and bounds--is still operating mostly under the radar. But we're not talking about funny brownies made in secret anymore. With pot-infused edible companies making everything from soda to salad dressing, some have begun to question what the lack of regulatory oversight means for marijuana food safety.
As Food Safety News reporter Kelley Damewood points out, the Feds had a perfect opportunity to establish some ground rules for marijuana food safety back in 2013. It was then that Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memorandum, e.g., the 2013 Cole Memo.The document listed eight priority enforcement areas and suggested that DOJ would leave marijuana enforcement to states so long as states adequately regulate and enforce DOJ’s eight listed priorities to the extent necessary to ensure public safety.
The memo covered the obvious areas: preventing distribution to minors, drugged driving, and violence, but food safety was conspicuously absent. Considering that the FDA had just begun to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, this seems an odd omission.
So that brings us to state government--can it successfully create and enforce food safety laws for the new legal marijuana industry?
As Damewood points out, "the 2013 Cole memo’s failure to mention food safety does not mean that there will be no liability for marijuana food contamination." Not willing to leave it up to chance, Colorado has already stepped up to create the first comprehensive set of marijuana food regulations, and it has already implemented the first stages.
While states have always been responsible for some aspects of food safety, like facility inspection, they've never tackled this kind of "farm to fork" regulation in such a short amount of time. It would admittedly be much better, for the companies and their customers, if states could draw on the experience of agencies like the USDA and FDA during this time.
But that would require the federal government to admit that marijuana prohibition has outlasted its usefulness, so I guess we'll have to wait a bit longer.
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