Beginning July 1, a new state law will make it possible for adults 21 and older to purchase recreational marijuana legally in Maryland.
Cannabis-derived consumable products are also allowed under the new Cannabis Reform Act. That has some food service businesses jonesing to put something new and unique on the menu.
The Hotdog Hideout, a Gambrills-based food truck, is among the first licensed food facilities planning to include menu items containing THC as soon as it is legal to do so.
Adrienne Benedetto, owner of the Hotdog Hideout, said her business will sell prepackaged infused beverages and desserts that contain THC in the form of cannabutter and cannasugar.
Desserts will include brownies, deep-fried chocolate chip cookies and Oreos, and funnel cakes, while beverages will include infused coffee, soda, sparkling water, and lemonade.
“We felt that infused items are going to become more readily available, so why not get in on the sales early,” Benedetto said.
Limited design help
Licensed food facilities must ensure their cannabis products come from an approved source, meaning anything available for purchase over the counter is permitted for resale without a special marijuana license.
Formulation research for products containing cannabis is lacking, but the Maryland University of Integrative Health in Laurel provides a student internship and case studies course geared toward solving problems in product design.
Bhodi Tims, program director of Herbal Product Design and Cannabis Science, said MUIH has already provided faculty guidance to help design a gummy and toothpaste product containing Cannabidiol, or CBD, as an ingredient.
With the exception of his own experience working with companies in Canada and Norway to create cannabis food products with THC levels less than 0.3%, MUIH has yet to work with THC-dominant chemotype products, but is prepared to offer that service in the future.
“There are barriers for a university that receives federal funds through students loans, work study programs or veterans benefits to pay for student tuition, but that should change once federal laws on cannabis are changed,” he said.
In an earlier interview with The Business Monthly, Amy Riolo, MUIH’s brand ambassador, said the legalization of recreational cannabis would allow entrepreneurs to experiment with solventless extraction to bring out the rosin of different cannabis strains, enabling them to create products with unique flavor profiles.
“Chefs and food groups also want to know how they can add (these things) to their products,” she said. “They’re not getting into the availability of new flavor profiles yet, but I think that’s the future once people realize there’s more than one type.”
Even so, there is still a major question of liability, particularly in the case of gummies, cookies and brownies, and other food products that appeal to children.
Accurate labeling is also a concern when matrix effects are involved. “Phenolics in chocolate bind to the cannabinoids,” Tims noted, interfering with the ability to accurately test for potency.
“Crossing state boundaries remains a liability,” he said. “As the market increasingly is dominated by Management Services Organizations and larger consumer brands like tobacco and food companies, they will try to find ways around the artificial bottleneck of within-state-only commerce requirements.”
Benedetto and her husband intentionally decided to sell Sabrett franks in their food truck, the same all-beef-casing kosher style hot dogs preferred by street vendors in Manhattan, keying in on quality, taste, and reputation.
They want to be just as careful and thoughtful about the infused products they sell.
“We have a separate station outside the truck where we add our cannasugar to fresh-made lemonade or sprinkle it on our desserts in 5mg levels, so there is no cross-contamination with other food or utensils,” Benedetto said.
The Hotdog Hideout’s website and operators also provide safety warnings and guidance for customers who may be trying these products for the first time.
“You have to start out slow because consumption of cannabis is different than smoking it,” she said. “It may take longer to take effect, and the effect may last longer. I will continue to educate myself and bring that knowledge to our events and our products as we grow into more things.”
Now that legislation has changed the regulatory landscape in Maryland, Benedetto believes cannabis-infused items will explode into the food and beverage industry.
“All the big companies are starting talks and working on concepts as we speak,” she said. “My main goal is to open a storefront where our baked infused goods and beverages can be sold.”
The Hotdog Hideout is also looking into working with another company on the concept design of its beverage formulations with the hope of marketing its own products in both alcoholic and nonalcoholic categories.
“Experimenting with CBD and cannabis as potential flavoring ingredients for low- or non-THC products is where I would love to place all my time and energy,” Benedetto said. “We’re still in the beginning stages of everything, but we’ll see how far we can take this and who we can work with to make these dreams happen for us.”