Best Practices in Edibles

When looking at the landscape of medical marijuana businesses in the state of California, discussions are often centered on storefront dispensaries, their zoning and regulations.  However, there are several other business models such as mobile dispensaries and edible companies that are also in dire need of guidance and attention.

In terms of regulation, edible marijuana products have long been overlooked.  This presents a number of questions for the providers and the consumers, from a legal, health and safety standpoint.  For example, do edible providers also need to be incorporated as nonprofits and become collectives or cooperatives?  Where should the cannabis come from? And what kinds of preparation, labeling and distribution rules must be followed?

First and foremost, those who wish to prepare and distribute edibles must comply with the same rules and regulations set forth in the California Health and Safety Code and the Attorney General’s Guidelines, just like all medical marijuana dispensaries.  This means the business must be operated in a nonprofit manner and obtain the appropriate permits and licenses. Additionally, edible providers must also ensure that they are procuring their cannabis in a closed circuit manner, ensuring that there is no illegal diversion of marijuana.  Distribution to non-members is strictly prohibited and edible providers must take the same steps and precautions to verify that a member is a qualified patient. Edible collectives must also be sure to pay all their taxes, just like any other business. Last, be sure to check your local regulations and ordinances to see if edible production, distribution or consumption is banned.

It is also important that edible collectives engaging in the production and sale of edibles familiarize themselves with the rules proscribed in the California Retail Food Code. The code applies to food that is sold in a retail setting as well as food delivered directly to the consumer.  The code focuses on rules designed to ensure safe and sanitary production and storage of food products for retail sale. These rules are equally as important to the provider as they are to the consumer.

In order to comply with the code, at least one person working in the food production facility must have passed a state approved and accredited food safety certification.  This person need not be on site at all times, but is responsible for ensuring that every person is trained on applicable procedures and may only serve at a single facility. Training must be taken every three years, but incentives are provided by the state for people who renew their training on an annual basis.

According to the code, food may not be prepared in private homes. If the collective does not have an on-site kitchen, several options are available for safe food preparation. Check with local restaurants to see if they will rent out their kitchen during non-business hours. There are also commercial kitchens available for rent. Rentals are available on both full-time and part-time plans.

Some of the best practices included in the code are as follows:

  • An easily accessible hand washing station should be located away from the area where food is prepared and stored or where utensils are washed. The station should have an adequate supply of hot water (between 100-108 degrees), cleanser, and single-use disposable towels or a hot air dryer. Signage should be on display in restrooms reminding workers to wash their hands before returning to the food preparation area.
  • Workers must wear clean clothes, hair nets, and trim fingernails to prevent contamination of food and utensils.
  • Workers may not be present in the food preparation area while suffering from an illness that is transferable by food products (such as gastrointestinal issues) or while experiencing uncontrollable sneezing, coughing, or runny nose.
  • Food preparation surfaces and utensils must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized prior to use.
  • Food  products must be packaged or displayed in a manner that prevents contamination

Food is considered to be adulterated when something is added to the food that would not normally be an ingredient in that type of food.  In general, a food that has been adulterated contains ingredients that are unknown and unwanted by the recipient.  Under federal standards, foods that are infused with an unsafe ingredient could be considered adulterated.  Under the California Retail Food Code, adulteration laws focus on ensuring that food is presented to the consumer in an honest manner, without misleading or misinforming the customer. Retail food products are to have labeling clearly disclosing the common name or a description of the food product (e.g. brownie), all of the ingredients contained in the product listed in descending order according to weight, the quantity of the contents of the package, and the name and location of the manufacturer.

In San Francisco, the City and County Department of Public Health has set forth regulations specifically relating to the regulation of medical cannabis products called Medical Cannabis Dispensary (MCD) Regulations for Preparation of Edible Cannabis Products. Because so many cities remain mum on regulations, it is strongly encouraged that edible providers adopt the San Francisco model to ensure safe preparation and consumption of edible products. In terms of sanitation, the regulations read like a relaxed version of the California Retail Food Code. These regulations offer many additional tips for good packaging practices, such as:

  • Products must be individually packaged at the place of preparation and must specify the date produced.
  • Include a warning on the label if nuts or other common allergens are used in any foods prepared at the site.
  • Labeling must indicate the total weight of cannabis in the product and must clearly indicate that the product is medication containing medical cannabis.
  • The labeling must not be attractive to children and must clearly indicate that the item is to be stored in a manner that prevents children from accessing it.
  • Any items that resemble common food items must be placed in non-transparent packaging before it is removed from the collective or before delivery to the patient.

While these best practices are extensive, they do not cover all of the requirements of the California Retail Food Code or the San Francisco regulations. Collectives engaged in preparing and distributing edible cannabis products should consult with an attorney to ensure that they are a properly formed business and compliant with state and local laws; and patients should not be afraid to ask how their edibles are being prepared.  It is up to YOU to create a system that will ensure products distributed to patients are safe for consumption.

By Kimberly Simms, founding attorney of Law Office of Kimberly R. Simms and Legal Cannabis Institute instructor.

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