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Weed Limits: One San Francisco Dispensary Owner Wants to Put a Stop to Super-Potent Edibles 

Wednesday, Feb 11 2015
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I'm afraid of what's in my freezer.

Wrapped in tinfoil, with "DO NOT EAT" scribbled in Sharpie, is a small brownie. At 447 calories and 27 grams of fat, only some people could eat this chocolate-toffee treat guilt-free. But you can forget about trying to run or work it off after digesting: A few bites, and you're in for a really weird day. If you eat the whole thing, prepare for a long, lost weekend.

This is because the brownie contains 700 milligrams of THC. That's the psychoactive punch in about an entire ounce of high-grade California medical cannabis. To put this into context: It takes about 15 to 25 milligrams of THC to get someone high. The brownie contains about 35 times that amount.

Super potent edibles are on the rise everywhere marijuana is legal. If a brownie like this doesn't scare you, try devouring one of the 1,000-milligram chocolate bars available in Colorado and California. Even more modest edibles are still too much: On my desk there's a pouch of hot chocolate mix containing 120 milligrams of THC. I cannot give it away. I tried pitching the benefit of a really relaxing cup of cocoa by the evening fire to a skier bruised by a day's run. "I need to be able to see the next day in order to ski," she says.

There is a market for these products. People are buying them. And edibles are becoming stronger and stronger. That means that while very few people would — or could — smoke an entire bag of marijuana, more people are eating the equivalent.

This is not sitting well with Kevin Reed. He is the founder and president of The Green Cross, one of San Francisco's oldest licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. Reed is fine with you being stoned; if you see him around town, and he knows you're a legal cannabis patient, he just may hand you a finger-sized joint. But he will not share my brownie.

"There is no medical necessity that requires that kind of dose," said Reed, who is trying to bring concerns of an out-of-control, "irresponsible" edibles industry to San Francisco City Hall.

For a long time, Reed limited edibles sold via his delivery service and storefront dispensary to 50 milligrams of THC. Patients complained that the product was too weak. So he upped it to 100 milligrams per package (in two 50-milligram servings). That stopped the complaints, but even that is too much for most people, he said.

Reed's mother once visited him from her native Alabama and asked to try a cookie. The subsequent ordeal went something like this: She thought she was having a heart attack; Reed wouldn't take her to the emergency room, because waiting off a high, the only solution to an edibles overdose, is not better in an ER. She accused her son of trying to kill her. She recovered and mother and son are fine, but the experience turned Reed off from excessive edibles.

That scene is certainly being repeated across the country.

In California, where legal weed is only permitted to be used as medication, powerful edibles are not medically necessary, Reed says. They serve one function: to get incredibly fucked up. This could pose a problem for the patients with severe pain or lung problems who do need edible cannabis. "We are afraid if this trend continues, edibles will be taken away altogether," Reed wrote in a letter to the city.

Even worse: For anyone involved with cannabis, including the makers of the bomb brownie, experiences like these could halt legalization in its tracks.

In January, Reed wrote to the Department of Public Health and to the Board of Supervisors, requesting that something be done. He doesn't want a ban on mega-edibles, just a limit on what's sold in city-licensed medical dispensaries, as well as a rule requiring dispensaries to tell cannabis patients exactly how powerful edibles are. Though most edibles carry a label, there is currently no requirement to label an edible with its THC content.

Reed thinks a 150-milligram limit on edibles is reasonable. If you really need 700 milligrams of THC, he reasons, you can eat two or three. Putting all of that into one tiny chocolate square, however, "it's like a marijuana roofie," he tells me.

At least for now, weed roofies are okay in San Francisco. Neither public health officials nor elected officials are demonstrating any interest in regulating edibles.

Other than Reed, nobody has complained to the Health Department about edibles being too strong, officials there tell me (the city's entire dispensary program only generates about half-a-dozen complaints annually as it is, mostly whining about double parking and people smoking weed outside).

The city could, in theory, regulate edible strength the same way the alcohol content in beer and wine and the strength of Oxycodone pills are regulated. But that would require action from the Board of Supervisors, according to health officials.

Only three of the 11 city supervisors have given Reed a response. As far as what they plan to do remains unknown. None of the three responded to a request from SF Weekly for comment.

The reluctance from City Hall is partially the cannabis's industry's own fault. Several attempts to get government and the marijuana industry involved and working together failed spectacularly. The edible issue, if unchecked, could also be headed toward a much bigger disaster.

As for my brownie, it's staying put until I can find a way to cut it into thirty-fifths.


About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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