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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NEWS: Pot brownies supposedly pose a risk of ‘agonizing, painful death’

The display counter at Best Buds, a mom-and-pop medical-marijuana collective tucked away among the ship-building yards on Harbor Drive, contains a wide selection of weed-laced edible products. There are brownies, Rice Krispies treats and gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free alternatives for those with dietary restrictions. They even have marijuana-infused olive oil and bagel chips for patients who aren’t into junk food.

But before a patient can take away a dose, the staff will force him to read a one-page warning copied from recommendations issued by the city of San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force. The “Cannabis Patient Advisory” explains that edible marijuana products can cause “severe extreme anxiety” lasting up to four hours and that a patient shouldn’t drive within seven hours of consumption.

More alarming, however, is this line:

“That fact that most edible [sic] are produced in kitchens which have not been certified by the health Department [sic] creates a risk of serious illness and/or an agonizing painful death.”

Pro-pot activists say if anyone is going to die from a pot brownie, it won’t be because of the cannabis but, rather, as a result of food poisoning. The San Diego County Department of Environmental Health is responsible for inspecting and grading retail food facilities throughout the county. So far, it’s not holding marijuana kitchens to the same standards.

“Clearly, the City is warning people about eating food prepared in ANY kitchen not regularly inspected by the County,” county spokesperson Michael Workman says in a prepared statement. “It is in no way intended to imply there are commercial kitchens preparing marijuana foodstuffs that [the] County is knowingly ignoring.”

Representatives from the Southern California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws disagree, arguing that the county has authority to inspect these facilities but hasn’t done so.

“I definitely think the county has a responsibility to do this now,” SoCal NORML Director Craig Beresh says. “Even though it has medicine in it, it does have food in it as well. The worst thing would be for someone to get sick, or worse, die, because of an edible they received.”

A product tainted with salmonella, for example, would be especially dangerous for patients with weak immune systems, many of whom are more likely to ingest marijuana because it’s safer than smoking.

Initially, Workman said that food with marijuana in it is no longer food—it’s a drug, and the kitchens are therefore exempt from food-safety regulations. He later retracted that claim.

“There is no state law that directly regulates marijuana in food,” Workman now says. Counties “have to address dispensing of marijuana, among other issues in their local ordinances.”

This week, the county will vote on an ordinance that would prohibit marijuana foods in unincorporated areas. It doesn’t deal with the issue of regulating marijuana kitchens countywide, but advocates for inspections, such as David Speckman, a San Diego attorney who represents a dozen local collectives, say a new ordinance is unnecessary.

“Any time any food item is being prepared for a… commercial transaction, even within the context of a medical-marijuana donation, it is still subject to health and safety regulations,” Speckman says. “It doesn’t make sense that adding one ingredient means the kitchen is no longer subject to regulations.”

State and county health and safety codes define food as a “raw, cooked or processed edible substance, ice beverage, an ingredient used or intended for use or for sale in whole or in part for human consumption, and chewing gum.”

According to a later statement from Workman: “If we were to find a retail restaurant or bakery preparing marijuana brownies, Rice Krispies, etc… then we would work with the appropriate law enforcement agency and take the necessary enforcement action.”

That, however, has not yet happened, and the fact that the county and state are not inspecting marijuana kitchens—or shutting down those that don’t meet health standards—presents a dilemma for collectives. Many have begun purchasing edibles from licensed commercial kitchens outside the county.

“The legal problem that some of these collectives might run into is that the baker or manufacturer of the edibles may not be a ‘member’ of the collective in the true sense of the term,” Speckman says.

Best Buds, for example, offers patients two kinds of edibles: Those made in unlicensed home kitchens of its members (which is consistent with the California Attorney General’s guidelines for “closed circuit” collectives) and those purchased from a bakery in Los Angeles County (which may not be allowed under the guidelines) that has provided proof that it has passed health inspections.

The bakery did not tell health inspectors that it was making marijuana edibles during the inspection, according to the facility’s proprietor, who asked not to be identified. San Francisco is the only major California jurisdiction that has crafted formal guidelines for marijuana food production.

Collectives are also renting space in certified kitchens to produce their own products. One collective CityBeat contacted prepares the food in the kitchen of a member’s restaurant; that member is also a food-safety manager and the collective’s staff are certified food handlers.

Mother Earth Co-op, a collective managed by city task force member Kim Twolan, has an on-site kitchen that’s not been inspected by the Health Department. “We just follow health and safety guidelines in our kitchen, and we just make sure our products have high quality control,” says Twolan, who’s written a marijuana cookbook. “But I have seen people come in, trying to sell edibles out of dirty coolers.”

Source: San Diego CITYBEAT