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When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, it also opened up the sale of food products infused with the drug. They're allowed for anyone older than 21. That means there's a whole new market of people eating marijuana-laced food and a whole new market for food regulators to keep an eye on. Luke Runyon has the story from member station KUNC.
LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: Brendan Greney welcomes two shoppers to Organic Alternatives, a recreational and medical marijuana store Fort Collins, Colorado.
BRENDAN GRENEY: How's it going guys? What are we thinking today, gentlemen? Something to eat? Something to smoke?
GRENEY: Greney is a bud tender. Yes, a bud tender. And his job is much more than running a cash register. He says many customers are curious about edible marijuana but have little experience with it.
GRENEY: You know, I don't know what your tolerances. It varies by the individual and metabolism. But 10 milligrams is what we recommend on those guys.
RUNYON: He's talking about orange flavored THC-infused liquids in little spray bottles - like a breath freshener. Then he moves down the line to granola bars, chocolates, lollipops and gummy bears. Greney says if customers eat too much in one sitting, it can sour the whole experience. That's where he comes in with pamphlets and advice.
GRENEY: You know, I think this is fun. I think it should be fun. And I think it's safe if consumed and used the right way. And this gives us an opportunity to like, share that information with people, you know? It's not some scary, back alley thing.
RUNYON: Pulling marijuana out of that back alley and into a legal, regulated market has presented challenges. Potency has been an issue. Products were stronger or weaker than advertised, and Lewis Koski, Director of Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division, says that led to overindulgence in some cases.
LEWIS KOSKI: Some of the new consumers in the legalized market just were not very well-informed in terms of how to safely take that product.
RUNYON: Since January first, some eager, inexperienced consumers have shown up in emergency rooms sweating and paranoid. Koski says that's why new rules limit the serving size of foods infused with THC and mandate additional warning labels on the packages.
KOSKI: So if you continue to put other warnings on there, you have to really question whether or not that becomes effective as a means to be able to really educate a consumer and make the product safe for them.
RUNYON: Washington State, which is also working to establish rules for recreational marijuana, has banned THC-infused candies - worried they'd appeal to children. They're allowing baked goods and bottled drinks.
TAYLOR WEST: This is the direct result of taking a product that used to exist on the underground market and putting it into a legal regulated one.
RUNYON: Taylor West is Deputy Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
WEST: Now we have the impetus to do things like trainings, to be sure that everything is being handled in a professional manner.
RUNYON: And at one of those trainings in a Denver conference room, Maureen McNamara warms up an audience of edible marijuana bakers and cooks.
MAUREEN MCNAMARA: A few myths dispelled - today is not a cannabis cooking class. It's a food safety...
RUNYON: For years, McNamara has taught kitchen staff how to wash their hands and keep food at the right temperature. Now she's doing the same for edibles.
MCNAMARA: And I'm going to keep asking you to take it back to your specific operation. I do that in every class, but I think it's particularly unique for you because you're doing things differently here in the wild west.
RUNYON: Not that wild - at least from a regulatory standpoint. Trainings like McNamara's are now mandatory for pot-infused food preparers. And regulators in Colorado say they'll be to tweaking rules on edible marijuana sector for years to come. For NPR News, I'm Luke Runyon in Fort Collins, Colorado.
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