The Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division confirms that an investigation is underway involving meat products infused with THC, the active ingredient of marijuana. In the meantime, multiple sources tell us that meat products like a jerky made by local firm Benjamin's Edibles are being removed from medical marijuana center shelves. Why?
Our sources within the medical marijuana industry tell us a similar story. According to them, the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees food safety in this country, has established a rule against infusing meat and dairy products with THC. For this reason, MMED personnel have been removing such items from store shelves, starting this week.
When asked about these assertions, Julie Postlethwait, MMED spokeswoman, declines to provide details, citing the ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, we've yet to hear back from the USDA, with which we've made multiple interview requests. However, the agency's fact sheet about meat and poultry features the following info, listed under the heading, "Who Monitors the Safety of Food Additives:"
Before any substance can be added to food, its safety must be assessed in a stringent approval process. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares responsibility with FDA for the safety of food additives used in meat, poultry, and egg products. All additives are initially evaluated for safety by FDA.
When an additive is proposed for use in a meat, poultry, or egg product, its safety, technical function, and conditions of use must also be evaluated by the Labeling and Consumer Protection Staff of FSIS, as provided in the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Egg Products Inspection Act, and related regulations. Although FDA has overriding authority regarding additive safety, FSIS may apply even stricter standards that take into account the unique characteristics of meat, poultry, and egg products. Several years ago, for instance, permission was sought to use sorbic acid in meat salads. Although sorbic acid was an approved food additive, permission for use in meat salad was denied because such usage could mask spoilage caused by organisms that cause foodborne illness.
Additives are never given permanent approval. FDA and FSIS continually review the safety of approved additives, based on the best scientific knowledge, to determine if approvals should be modified or withdrawn.
While this section doesn't specifically mention THC or marijuana, the emphasis on the approval process would certainly seem to preclude them. After all, the federal government lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, meaning that it has no recognized medical use.
Has the USDA written new regulations about THC-infused meat and dairy products? Has the agency simply decided that the time is now to enforce and apply mandates already in place? Or have local officials decided to take action using long-established USDA restrictions as a rationale? When and if we hear back from the USDA, we'll update this post.
Like the USDA, representatives of Benjamin's Edibles have not returned requests for interviews, either. It's notable, though, that while Boulder Wellness Center still lists Benjamin's beef jerky on its online menu ("Beef Jerky, 100 mg, by Benjamin's Edibles, $10: Delicious teriyaki jerky!"), there's no such reference on the company's own website. At this writing, Benjamin's products are limited to vaporizers, apparel and "sweets" such as Family Jewels, a candy item.
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