BANGOR – Edible products made from marijuana are a popular way for some to consume the medicinal drug but officials in Colorado are warning folks in Maine to be prepared for increased hospital visits after recreational sales begin.
That’s because there is a “learning curve when it comes to edibles,” said Chris Halsor of Understanding Legal Marijuana. He said smoking marijuana gets THC into a person’s system rather quickly, but edibles are absorbed and it takes longer.
“You go eat that one square of chocolate and you’re supposed to wait 20 minutes to two hours for the effects to set in. … I always joke, we being the patient society we are, people will wait six minutes then they’ll eat the whole candy bar,” said Halsor, a former Colorado prosecutor, who has worked with Bangor and Portland police departments and Maine State Police.
Edibles can come in many forms including but not limited to chocolate bars, cookies, fudge and lollipops, and Mainers with medical marijuana cards buy more than $2 million in edibles annually, according to the state tax records.
“People can overdose on marijuana,” Halsor said. “Advocates like to say nobody has ever died from a marijuana overdose, that may be true … but people can freak out on THC, for sure.”
Bangor police are taking a proactive stance.
“We’d like to just encourage people to be mindful of the level of THC in these edibles and to take a good hard look at the packaging to make sure that they’re only consuming normal amounts and not eating or using way too much of the product, which might cause them to experience unwanted symptoms,” said Sgt. Wade Betters, spokesman for the Bangor Police Department.
Unlike medical marijuana where potency labeling is not a requirement in Maine, the new adult-use regulations limit THC in edibles.
“Your edibles cannot be more than 10 milligrams apiece,” said Winona Polanski, manager of Grass Roots of Maine, a Bangor medical marijuana provider that plans to offer recreational pot. “You can have 100 milligrams in the bag, but each edible cannot be more than 10 milligrams.”
Bangor medical marijuana providers suggest newcomers start with a low dose.
“If somebody new comes in we do suggest, if they’re going to do edibles, they start with our 5-milligram candies,” said Polanski, who added later that Maine adult-use laws will prohibit using the word candy in packaging in an effort to prevent children from accidentally eating it.
She said people should “start low, go slow,” a motto taken from Colorado.
Acadia Cannabis Company, another Bangor business that plans to offer adult-use retail sales, “We already hand out an edible education sheet with our edibles,” said Neil Bonneville, an edible baker for the medical marijuana store. “It explains what size to start with and how much they should eat.”
He said the store wants to educate people “because everyone’s body chemistry is a little bit different.”
Maine lawmakers are currently finalizing the rules for recreational cannabis use, something voters approved in 2016, and Gov. Janet Mills’ administration is working on a public health and safety campaign.
“Edibles can be problematic for people just because they’re unpredictable,” Halson said, adding in Colorado, “People have been known to have what they just described as psychotic episodes and you know there have been some suicides.”
He said parents also should be aware of the law changes.
“They’re going to have edibles and they’re going to have a vape pen and you’re not even going to know it,” Halson said. “The remarkable thing with vape pens, which are really, really good at suppressing the odor, is it’s conducive to people using the highest and most potent marijuana.”
March 15 was the target start date for retail sales of recreational marijuana in Maine but that date is in limbo right now.
A spokesman for the Office of Marijuana Policy said the state expects to release an updated timetable this week.
“Remember that not all these packages or products are meant to be consumed all in one sitting,” Betters said.