When marijuana retailers open for business in Washington state next month, it's likely they won't have any marijuana-infused brownies, cookies or other edibles on their shelves despite their popularity.
In addition to getting a processors license from the Washington state Liquor Control Board to manufacture edibles, commercial pot kitchens also must pass state Agriculture Department inspection for food safety.
So far, just one such inspection has occurred and results haven't been released. With processors unable to buy marijuana for extraction until sales are approved next month, potential edible makers are left waiting.
"If your business is purchasing extract and infusing it into a brownie or something of that nature, you can't even buy any product to get started yet," says Mikael Carpenter, spokesman with the Liquor Control Board. "So there's nobody who is authorized to create edible products at this time in Washington state."
In Colorado, where marijuana has been legally sold since January, edible pot is a thriving business. One industry estimate says at least 8 million pieces of edible pot products have sold this year.
But the state did not create the same regulations for food safety as Washington. That will change in October when when new testing requirements take effect.
The agency that regulates Colorado's marijuana industry, the state Department of Revenue, requires pot manufacturing facilities to meet the same sanitation requirements as retail food establishments, including adequate hand-washing and refrigeration.
But the question of whether the state's 51 licensed recreational edible-pot makers meet those standards is left to local health departments, said agency spokeswoman Natriece Bryant. State regulations requiring them also to pass tests for common food contaminants — such as E. coli and salmonella — don't take effect until the fall.
In Colorado, for now, it's a case of buyer-beware when eating foods including cannabis.
In Denver, where most of Colorado's edible-pot producers are located, health officials have been meeting with the businesses to explain new city requirements that edible marijuana processing facilities get inspected at least twice a year, the same as restaurants.
Denver's manager for food safety inspections, Danica Lee, showed about 50 industry workers examples of bad food-prep sanitation — bottles of bleach on the food-prep surface and improperly stored utensils — and warned that they could face steep fines or even lose their licenses if they fail repeated inspections.
"We're treating your industry like any other subset of the food industry," Lee told the edible pot makers.
Washington's Liquor Control Board expects to issue the first retail marijuana licenses in early July.
Reporting by the Associated Press is included in this report.