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So, You Want to Get Into the Weed Edibles Business

Gastropod hosts Nicky Twilley and Cynthia Graber explore where the marijuana industry is heading, for better and for worse

An overhead photo of a woman with dark blond hair and a baseball cap, her face obscured by the brim, eating a large lollipop with a marijuana leaf imprinted on it. Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

On the previous episode of Gastropod, hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicky Twilley bit into the history of pot brownies. Now, on the second episode in their two-part series on edibles, the pair is exploring where the marijuana industry is possibly heading now that weed is legal — or in the process of becoming legal — in many states. What does that mean for the people, mostly men of color, currently incarcerated for minor drug offenses? What does it mean for any of us?

The episode begins in Rose’s industrial kitchen in San Francisco, where founder Nathan Cozzolino walks Graber and Twilley through the brand’s process of making high-end, rosin-based cannabis Turkish delight (inspired by — what else — C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) in delicious-sounding flavors like hibiscus, grenache grape, blueberry-capirinha, and Lisbon lemon with mulberry and rosemary. (Rosin is the sap-like sticky stuff exuded by the cannabis flower.) There’s also a flavor called “dirt,” a combination of black Japanese sugar with activated charcoal, pickled shiso leaf, cacao, candy cap mushrooms, and Maldon salt.

While such treats are certainly delicious and mind-altering, edibles are also being used to treat a variety of medical ailments. So Graber and Twilley head to the office of scientist Adie Rae at the Legacy Research Institute in Portland, Oregon, to discuss the use of cannabis for pain management, the biological effects that the plant has on our body, and the current limitations on research. During the Nixon era, cannabis was classified as one of the most dangerous drugs you could take, and scientists were only allowed to study the ways in which it might be harmful. This is changing today, as scientists now can study not just the harms but also the benefits of cannabis.

And so, Rae explains, over the past decade, an increasing amount of research is starting to answer the questions that swirl around this internationally adored plant. Can it help with sleep, anxiety, and PTSD? And what about all those CBD-infused products on the market—how are they different from the edibles that get you high, and can a swig of CBD-laced soda accomplish even a few of the many claims promised on the packaging?

Marijuana is a highly lucrative industry with, according Yoko Miyashita, CEO of the website Leafly, over $61 billion spent in 2020, “but only 19 of that was spent in the legal market.” Entering the legal cannabis industry requires an unusually high amount of capital in comparison to other types of food businesses, making it especially cost-prohibitive to lower-income people who might have been selling weed and weed products for years. As Twilley puts it, “The people who are at risk of being left out of this cannabis gold rush are the very people who have been most harmed by the drug’s prohibition,” which is to say that people of color are arrested for minor drug offenses at alarming rates compared to white people, despite equal usage. Graber adds that “more than 700,000 people are arrested each year for marijuana, sometimes just having a little bit for personal use, and nearly all of these people are Black or brown — 94 percent of arrests in New York City. This can lead to years and years in prison. It hurts the person arrested, it breaks up families.”

Miyashita says, “There are these big questions around how should we structure these markets. Who should be able to participate? How do we enable pathways for participation?” And that is what remains to be discovered. Is it possible for the industry to move forward in an equitable way, making it possible to both enjoy legal cannabis-infused Lisbon lemon Turkish delight and undo or even right the injustices foisted upon Black and brown marijuana users and sellers for decades? Some states and cities are trying; Los Angeles, for example, has earmarked a certain number of dispensary licenses for minority-owned businesses, but that still leaves much to be desired.

Listen to the episode to hear proposed solutions... and what happens when Graber tries pot for the very first time.

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