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The Edibles Market Is Exploding. You Can Bet Big Corporations Are Watching

In America, pot is what’s hot. So far, nine states—California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Vermont—and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational, adult-use weed. Meanwhile, venture capitalists are pumping the industry with cash; college students can now graduate with cannabis majors; and an uncharted legal market has created an entirely new crop of professions, including farmers and suppliers, but also “budtenders,” cannabis lawyers, yoga instructors, and infusion chefs.

David Downs is one of only a few cannabis news editors in the country. He runs GreenState, an online culture magazine powered by the San Francisco Chronicle. On a recent episode of Bite podcast, Downs gave me the run-down on cannabis-infused food, or edibles. These products are already generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue where pot is legal. The Specialty Food Association named edibles one of the top ten trends to watch in 2018.

With big corporations likely to join the edibles game, the market is in for some big changes, Downs told me. Here’s what you need to know:

You can put cannabis in almost any kind of food.

“The main active ingredient in cannabis is THC. It’s a molecule. It’s extremely small. It’s extremely potent. And it’s generally pretty lipophilic, which means it likes fats and it can dissolve in alcohols. You’re going to see this molecule be put in all manner of products now that you can manufacture these things legally.”

First-time users are flooding the edibles market.

“A lot of people don’t want to smoke cannabis, don’t have a lot of experience with it, and don’t want to smoke anything.”

“Smoking has fallen out of favor here in California: We’ve slashed the smoking rates in California by 90 percent in some age groups, like teenagers. It’s obviously one of the biggest public heath victories of the last couple generations. With that context, edibles seem like a really good entry point into cannabis.”

And big corporations are watching.

“On the corporate side, you bet Frito-Lay is going to get in this space. They recognize the writing on the wall. Something like eight percent of Americans are regular cannabis consumers. Half of Americans have tried cannabis in their lifetime. That’s 20 million cannabis-minded tourists in California alone this year.”

“When Frito-Lay gets in the space, it’s not going to be like, ‘Frito-Lay Doritos with cannabis.’ They’re gonna go stealth. There’s Frito-Lay products at Whole Foods, but they’re under a different brand called like, ‘simple’ or ‘clean’ or something like that. I expect to see either people from those companies retire and then start edibles companies that are really squeaky-clean, or the companies themselves start an offshoot cannabis brand that’s linked to the parent brand.”

“The one thing that slows that down is, these companies do business at the pleasure of the federal government and the federal government can really jack ’em up if they decide they want to go after them for peddling what’s the equivalent of heroin in the eyes of Uncle Sam.”

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