What legalized recreational marijuana can mean for food and beverage

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags Hemp

Voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, while in Maine it’s still too close to call.

Founder and CEO of cannabis-infused chocolate brand Défoncé Chocolatier​, Eric Eslao, was in Oahu celebrating Proposition 64 passing across the ocean in his home state California the day after the presidential election. “In California, we’ve been lucky to have a very large medical cannabis market,”​ he told FoodNaviator-USA. “Regardless of whether it passed, many companies—like ours—have been able to carve out successful businesses.”

But with recreational marijuana also legal, Eslao, who’s product has been sold exclusively in dispensaries, said he’s really excited about where the brand can go next. “The brand and product was designed for the high-end recreational market in mind—now, our targeted customers can purchase our product,”​ he said.

Legalized marijuana in the United States

Recreational marijuana-related measures were on the ballot in five different states this presidential election. They easily passed in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada, while in Maine, the pro-marijuana measure looks set to win by a slim margin. The measure was rejected in Arizona, the first state where voters voted against such a measure. 

Also on the ballot were measures to legalize medical marijuana—they passed in Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, and Montana. This adds to a growing roster of states where marijuana in some form is legal despite its illegal status federally. Colorado and Washington were the first to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, followed by Oregon and Alaska.

Effect on the food industry

While marijuana’s legal status among states remains patchy, companies are still cautious about how they will conduct commerce. “As of right now, we’re only going to manufacture and distribute in California,”​ Eslao said. “Regardless of the state laws, there still can’t be interstate commerce for cannabis—and the current methods to cross state lines aren’t attractive to us (i.e. licensing or bespoke manufacturing facilities in each state). We’re going to keep on doing what we’ve been doing: continue to create delicious edibles.”

But such a measure passing in California, one of the largest economies in the world, is seen by advocates and opponents alike of the state’s Proposition 64 as “the most important cannabis measure America has seen and could be an international game-changer for marijuana policy in the US,” reported The Guardian​. 

As of now, Défoncé Chocolatier's products have been sold in dispensaries in California for medical purposes. Founder Eric Eslao says that passing Prop 64 means his chocolate bars can be sold as a recreational item through more channels in the state.

Easing up on hemp

Some in the industry, such as Alan Rillorta, director of branded ingredient sales at AIDP, expect innovation in cannabis-related ingredients—including hemp, which comes from the same plant species but lacks the psychoactive component—will blossom.

In a previous interview with FoodNavigator-USA​, Rillorta said that hemp protein is on the cusp of greatness. Though still fairly niche, things could rapidly change with more states passing legislation for lax cannabis regulation. The US may be the largest consumer of hemp products​, but restrictive regulation about growing it stateside has been a barrier for the hemp industries, making imports from China or Canada a popular option.

“Hemp is like pea, you can use all parts of it for different things – oil, fibers and so on – so as soon as the legislation changes, I think things could move quickly. From a nutritional perspective, it is short on lysine, but relatively high in l-tyrosine and arginine, but you can blend it with other proteins [pea protein, for example, is rich in lysine],”​ he said.

“The Whole Foods set understands it, but I think some mainstream brands think the mass consumer is not ready to accept hemp yet because there is still that perception of there being an association with marijuana.

“However, I don’t think millennials associate hemp with marijuana in the way that older generations do,”​ he added.

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1 comment

Effect on food industry workforce?

Posted by Ruth,

Medical and recreational marijuana are very different. A major social experiment to observe the effect of recreational laws on the following: 1.Driving accidents (my AAA magazine suggests this has increased in CO in the past 2 years, but not enough data to definitively conclude). 2. Worker accidents and food recalls due to impaired employee decision-making. Possible result: corporations moving out of CO, ME, and CA to find a more reliable work force. We'll have to wait and see.....

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