How Will Our Cannabis Businesses Grow?
With cannabis re-legalization on the horizon (it was legal until 1937), abundant business opportunities are right around the corner for entrepreneurial folks. The cannabis industry has always been an energetic one. Even while shadowed by state/federal conflicts on the medical side and outright illegality on the social use side, economic development fueled by cannapreneurs is one of the steady successes of the past half-century. From the profusion of plant varieties, including specialized CBD strains, to the explosion of what we lovingly called paraphernalia in the 60s to vaporizers, hemp clothing, cannabis seed oil for your Omega 3s and 4s, and medibles from dispensaries, this versatile plant has inspired many new businesses. So, where are Californians now and what might the future hold?
Briefly, where we are now is in limbo mostly. County by county, official responses to the Compassionate Use Act of 1997 and its child SB 420, known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act, have varied enormously, as all too many patients learned the hard way. Use and distribution get loads of negative attention, so patients and caregivers have been harassed and busted all over the state, while other blooming businesses seem to slip under regulators’ radar. A prime example is medibles, medically-active edibles sold in dispensaries.
This writer innocently looked into the question of how one goes about providing foods for local dispensaries. As a staff chef for a medical delivery service in the Castro District of San Francisco in the 90s I developed and provided spinach plus whole cannabis main dishes, spanakopita and Indian curry, to tempt the palates of patients wasting away from AIDS or cancer. Last winter I wondered how I might become authorized to make my signature dishes for folks in Humboldt County.
My first thought was to legitimize my products through whatever mechanism the state or county had in place, so I started with the Cottage Food Operator (CFO) law that went into effect in January 2013. I took a two-hour OLLI workshop called Introduction to Becoming a Cottage Food Operator facilitated by the wonderful Doris Hicks, a local woman fully engaged with this new way of earning income. See the profile of Doris below.
The upshot of the workshop was that cannabis foods do not fall within the scope of the Cottage Food Operator law. The CFO law does not include any foods that make health claims so all medibles are out. Also, the main dishes I make are both perishable. The CFO law is for non-perishable goods only.
Next, I called the local office of the state Department of Public Health (they oversee the CFO program and others) to find out who is keeping an eye on the health and safety of medibles. Apparently no one is. Kevin Metcalf of the Center for Environmental Health, a division of Public Health, said that as “medical delivery devices,” medibles are outside their scope of action. Most revealing was a letter summarizing medical cannabis laws dated September 7, 2011 prepared for the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors by then District Attorney Paul Gallegos. On page 7 he mentions foods. Gallegos writes that neither the Compassionate Use Act nor the Medical Marijuana Program Act mention edibles nor are they directly covered by the current Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law. “However, neither do they exempt medical marijuana and related food products from the reach of the Sherman Law. The Office’s position is that… medical marijuana is regulated under the Sherman Law. Therefore, cooperatives and collectives that manufacture or offer edible marijuana products… do so at their own risk (emphasis mine), and should ensure that they are complying with applicable state and local food and drug safety and labeling laws…” Presumably, all local dispensaries are seeing that those who cook for them are doing a good job of following health standards. But no one is watching the hen house, so to speak.
We live in a time of cannabis law gray areas. The biggest example, of course, is banking, a federal system and so by law blind to the realities of major social change toward cannabis. Twenty-four states have medical cannabis programs and 3 plus the District of Columbia have legalized. None of these places have nationally-networked banks or credit unions available to cannapreneurs. No credit cards or lines of credit. No checks. No federally backed loans for business growth. A cash industry with only what private security you can afford. Security companies are experiencing a boom time as legal cannabis operations scramble to cope with being shut out of the banking system. On July 31, 2015, CNN Money online writer Aaron Smith wrote that Fourth Corner Credit Union of Denver was suing the regional branch of the Federal Reserve for being denied permission to operate within the banking system. The suit calls the Fed’s position “anti-competitive: it is detrimental to public safety.”
Whatever cannapreneurs develop – B&Bs, insurance policies, special curing techniques like fine tobacco, cannabis tourism, smoking bars and more – a major shift in Federal law is essential for the future. Just think, someday you’ll be able to plan your vacation through AAA or Travelocity around cannabis-friendly places to stay and even the candy on your pillow will be cannabinated.
Doris Hicks is the delightful person who taught the OLLI workshop, Introduction to Becoming a Cottage Food Operator. Besides learning all I needed to know about the new California Food Operator law, I found myself captivated by this energetic proponent of self-employment. Doris has become an accomplished cottage food operator in her own right, having developed several dozen baked products and successfully seen them through the submission process for inclusion in the ever expanding list of authorized food items.
Since May 2014 she has taught short introductions to the 2013 cottage food law such as the one I took and multi-week explorations in depth. But her interest is much broader than that. She is pro-active in searching out new venues where local cottage food operators can set up a table. She has been talking to the Adorni Center, for example, so that food operators can participate in events like the big Holiday Crafts Bazaar in December. She inspired all of us in the room to think creatively about what foods we might prepare for sale and about places we might set up to sell our goods, from Benbow to the Oyster Festival and beyond. She encouraged our expansive, imaginative thinking.
Doris’ food operator career began with baking cookies for the fall/winter holidays, first for friends. She became aware of the early 2013 passage of the Cottage Food Operator law and spent most of that year figuring out how to work with it and perfecting her recipes. She also has a deep love for culinary herbs, plants that engage all the senses, especially if you grow them yourself. Her garden contains many varieties of well-known herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary. It was news to this writer that different varieties of rosemary existed. Doris teaches private classes in using dried herbs to make wreaths, centerpieces and other fragrant, decorative item. And lately she has been combining these two interests, creating yummies such as lemon thyme bread.
Find her goodies and a descriptive brochure at the Kneeland Glen Farm Stand on Old Arcata Road. Every first Sunday she’s at the Humboldt Flea Market at Redwood Acres in Eureka, Dows Prairie Grange on the 3rd Saturday, and Humboldt Grange on the 4th Saturday of the month. On Saturday, October 3rd, Doris will lead a full-day workshop on the Cottage Food Law sponsored by Humboldt Grange #501 and she’s looking forward to reprising her multi-week in-depth class, three Saturday sessions through OLLI, November 7-21. For more information or to receive her brochure by mail, contact Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-362-0397.
Doris is a woman who likes to keep life interesting, inviting change rather than preferring to do the same thing year in, year out. Self-employment as an innovative cottage food operator suits her style perfectly. We celebrate her new emancipation from office work. Bon voyage, Doris, as you sail into the future as a full time self-employed cottage food operator!
Images by Justin McIvor and Doris Hicks