Rejean Hule considers himself the Iron Chef of weed.
The 40-year-old owner of East Vancouver dispensary Budzilla told VICE he spent years perfecting marijuana-infused recipes for everything from beef jerky to ice cream—"really exciting stuff." He refuses to use genetically modified ingredients and has even taken part in edibles cooking competitions.
So he was pretty crushed when Vancouver city council recently placed a ban on edible sales, with the exception of oils, tinctures, and capsules.
"We had a little under 600 items on our menu," he said. "Now my kitchen is bare."
In the absence of a federal legalization policy, Vancouver is taking pot regulation into its own hands. As part of the new municipal requirements, pot shops that want to continue operating in the city need to shelve all their edibles, with the aforementioned exceptions. This means brownies, cookies, candy—anything that could be considered a treat, are out. Victoria, BC, where 23 dispensaries have cropped up, is now looking to do the same.
But what exactly is Vancouver's beef with brownies?
According to Vancouver Coastal Health, the region's health authority, it mostly boils down to the children.
"There's no other medicine—including medicine used for people in intractable pain or cancer—that companies are allowed to format in the form of candy or baked goods that might appeal to children," Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for VCH, told the CBC.
Daly cited US data taken from poison control centers that found 2,000 kids under six had been exposed to pot between 2000-2013 and that there was a 147 percent increase in these reports from 2006-2013; the majority of cases (76 percent) involved edibles and 7 percent ended with critical care treatment. Daly said edibles can lead to coma, respiratory depression, and seizures in children.
I think we can all agree that, under most circumstances, small children shouldn't be consuming marijuana. But for context, as the Washington Post points out, kids are 136 times more likely to be poisoned by diaper cream than weed edibles. Other substances, like ibuprofen, birth control pills, and good ole' tobacco and alcohol are still much more likely to do harm to children. And Children's Hospital Colorado, a state where recreational edibles are legal and account for almost half of all pot sales, says kids are most likely to experience a severe version of a typical high e.g. "increased appetite, changes in mood, sleepiness, and balance problems." A Colorado-based study on the same topic found that "none of these exposures resulted in permanent morbidity or mortality."
Hule said he's in favor of lowering doses in products to reduce the risk of inadvertent ingestion by kids. But, "even if it's an extremely large dose, worst case scenario you're going to feel a little bit drunk and fall asleep."
Another, less touted argument against edibles is that it could encourage teenagers to start using weed. (Canadian teenagers already love chronic, 24.4 percent of those aged 15-24 use it.)
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recently released a report after visiting Colorado and Washington State, post-legalization.
Rebecca Jesseman, senior policy advisor at CCSA told VICE there isn't enough data to show that edibles actually increase usage amongst teens. But "when you're putting in new regulations it's better to start more on the restrictive side."
The flip side to this debate is, who are these people so dependent on edibles?
Well, lung cancer patients for one, pain sufferers trying to avoid opioids, the elderly, basically anyone who doesn't want to smoke their medication. (Ironically, sick children whose parents treat them with THC also need it in an ingestible form.) Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court ruled that possession of edibles was legal. Essentially, said Micheal Vonn, policy advisor at the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, bans like the one Vancouver has imposed are creating a "second class citizen" amongst patients.
"The government cannot force you to smoke your medication," Vonn told VICE. "It's unbelievable we had to go Supreme Court to hear those words, but we did."
Because of the clusterfuck of regulations in this country, Vonn said patients in Vancouver who need edibles now have to become their own pharmacists.
"Nobody tells people who take Tylenol for pain to go home and make their own."
Torontonian David Posner owns Nutritional High, an edibles provider launching imminently in Colorado. The company hired a Cordon Bleu chef to create its menu, which includes chocolate bars, hard candies, and gummies. He pointed out that vitamins are popular in gummy form and there are chocolates containing alcohol, though the potency would be less than that of a typically weed cookie.
Clear labelling and child-proof packaging, measures being applied in Colorado, are ways to deter children from getting into treats, said Posner.
"The packages are so hard to open that even for an adult it's hard."
While multiple layers of government sort their shit out, Hule said many of his 3,500 clients are "heartbroken."
For now, the only trace of his once-extensive repertoire of goodies is a list on his website.
"I haven't deleted the menu, 'cause I'm hoping edibles will come back."
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