Pot bill opens door to health inspections

Travis Chambers of God’s Gift medical marijuana dispensary sets out a container of chocolate hazelnut ice cream on the counter as he shows some of the baked goods and edibles the dispensary sells to customers. Other items for sale include cakes, muffins, and peanut butter cups.

Medical marijuana sellers that bake the product into food could soon face the same checks for sanitary kitchen conditions that restaurants experience.

House Bill 1284, which lays out regulations and licensing processes for medical marijuana centers, may open the door to sanitation checks from county health inspectors, according to Ned Calonge, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s chief medical officer.

The bill is working its way through the Legislature and could be amended, but its current form would allow inspectors to check baking areas for violations ranging from bugs to animal droppings, Calonge said.

“The problem we have is we have no way to do that under existing federal and state law,” Calonge said.

Travis Chambers, owner of God’s Gift medical marijuana dispensary at 571 32 Road, said he would support an inspection system.

“That area’s all a gray spot. You don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I think it’s needed,” Chambers said of inspection guidelines.

While some dispensaries bake on site, Chambers gets food from vendors.

With no official cleanliness records for places that make marijuana-based edibles, Chambers said he only purchases items from people he has known and trusted for some time. He gets brownies from a local cook and has been to the chef’s home, where the brownies are baked, and noted the clean surroundings. Some items he gets from wholesalers in the state. For example, his ice cream comes from Glenwood Springs.

No current law classifies edible products containing marijuana as food, he said, and neither would House Bill 1284. That’s why the bill would not allow for inspections of the actual marijuana-infused food products. But it would require shops to label products with a description of how much marijuana the item contains.

Calonge said current law considers marijuana a contamination of a food product, and the Health Department could condemn and destroy any food with marijuana inside it. That’s not something the department wants to do though, he said, because it would violate the spirit of the law allowing medical marijuana patients to consume marijuana in any form.

“What we tried to do is not outright ban the sale of edible marijuana products but instead create a regulatory system that would inform people and at least have sanitation standards,” he said.

The Colorado Department of Revenue will have to set the frequency of the inspections, which could begin July 1 if Gov. Bill Ritter signs the bill into law this year. It could go into effect the same day Ritter signs the bill if a safety clause is placed in the bill.


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