Enter Edibles: New frontier for pot in Canada

This article was published in Savour Calgary Magazine's inaugural issue.

Enter Edibles: New frontier for pot in Canada

While some are still shy about broadcasting it, many of Calgary’s chefs, restaurateurs and sommeliers are making plans—plans to infuse cannabis into their business model as edibles enter the legal realm. All sorts of opportunities are emerging, including entirely new career paths.

Andrew Freedman is a cannabis sommelier. His job is to help newbies and connoisseurs navigate the brave new world of legalized cannabis. A WSET-accredited wine expert with experience in Canada’s other once-forbidden vice, alcohol, Freedman started thinking about applying the same dedication, specialization and research to cannabis. And his consultancy is taking off.

“After seeing the relationship between food and wine, then thinking about it also as an intoxicant, as a social lubricant, it became really evident to me that cannabis was kind-of the next evolution in dining, and there was a way to build a bridge for a different demographic,” Freedman explains. “I teach cannabis and wine pairings, cannabis and craft beer pairings, how to make cocktails with cannabis.”

High on the cannabis interest level is edibles. Edibles and other cannabis products are legal across Canada as of October 17, 2019, but Health Canada says it will likely be closer to the end of the year before products become widely available.

Edibles are a different game altogether. While smoking cannabis has a certain effect, the effect you get from eating the key compounds in cannabis is different. You’ll see two compounds popping up when it comes to edibles: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects, or the “high” it produces) and CBD (cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound without the strong effect on cognitive brain activity, which causes no high at all).

Freedman says that finding just the right food and cannabis combination is an art, just like wine pairing.

“If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting, and you love a wine, then you look to your tasting partner and see them scowling, you’ll understand. My philosophy of pairing (wine with food) is contrast. Mexican and southeast Asian cuisine are amazing because of the balance of spice, acid, fat, salt and umami.”

When it comes to pairing cannabis with beer or wine, Freedman has some favourites.

“Find some cannabis that smells like ginger, like Congo x Kandahar, and get a wine with tastes of mandarin—your mind will be blown! Beer is exceptionally easy to pair. If you’d like a deeper complexity of your beer with cannabis, go for hops. If you’d prefer to highlight the cannabis, crisp lagers or gose is great. Saison is also a great option.”

Considering that cannabis is a multimillion-dollar industry, it’s no surprise that plenty of folks are looking to get into the edibles game. While I spoke to several people about their plans for edibles, many were secretive and refused to be quoted for this story, though they admitted investing heavily in recipes and research and development. Chefs, restaurateurs and what we might previously have termed “respectable businesses” are making plans around edibles.

One entrepreneur who wasn’t about to shy away from his involvement in the pot industry, and the edibles market, is Ross Rebagliati. The Olympic gold medal-winning former snowboarder is founder of Legacy Brands, a CBD consumables company, and Ross’ Gold, a medical cannabis merchandise company. Rebagliati has seemingly had the last laugh after he tested positive for cannabis following the Nagano games in 1998. Cashing in on his infamy much the same way Kim Kardashian capitalized on her sex tape, Rebagliati has parlayed his notoriety into a serious business.

“I think there’ll be an explosion of interest [in edibles]. I think people are looking at what cannabis has to offer. Edibles are interesting to athletes and people who are post-op and that sort of thing. There’s also the drinks, and CBD-infused water. One day restaurants could be able to pair their food with different dosages of CBD or THC for their clients, just as they would with wine.”

Indeed, this is just the kind of stuff that Freedman has been working on. He hosts private, invitation-only “Elevated Dinners” for clients and special guests, where noted chefs will pair various strains of cannabis and food and wine. Think: an infused curried squash puree, cannabis-infused foie gras doughnut, or maple-smoked spring salmon with horseradish crème fraiche and “herb” oil. These events are private because Health Canada regulations say restaurants aren’t allowed to serve food containing cannabis.

When it comes to what’s allowed in terms of edibles (see sidebar), there’s a hard “no” on cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages and cannabis products containing tobacco, or caffeine. Health Canada has set strict rules on labelling to prevent companies from making cannabis more attractive to young people. Its guideline for packaging: plain. Edibles also cannot be appealing in any way to youth, whether that’s in the colours, flavours or style. That doesn’t bother some manufacturers—or foodies.

“The market doesn’t actually want a gummy bear or a brownie. We’re adults, and I know what adults eat, and candy isn’t something that I eat all the time, or or would want to eat,” says Freedman. “So one of the big things that I consider always is how that savoury category is going to work into the whole world of edibles.”

Margot Micallef has been considering it, too. As founder and CEO of Calgary-based Gabriella’s Kitchen Inc., she’s been working not just on an edibles strategy, but on actually creating products, which, up until Canada’s law change, have been available in California only.

“We have a line of flavoured olive oils. We have garlic, truffle and an extra virgin olive oil. One line is CBD-infused, and the other line is CBD and THC infused.” Adds Micallef, “We just bought a chocolate company that does CBD-infused chocolates.”

Micallef says her customers aren’t looking to get baked on a Friday night by smoking. Instead they want something they can make part of their diet or meal, that will also take the edge off their anxiety, or help them relax and rest.

“The number of people who use THC for sleep is on the rise. Anecdotally, as well as from a research perspective, THC has had tremendous benefits assisting people with sleep,” Micallef explains. “People who are suffering from cancer often don’t eat because the chemotherapy or the therapy that they’re under suppresses their appetite. So THC can be a pain reliever as well as an appetite stimulant, which helps the patient maintain health during that process of treatment.”

Will edibles be the cannabis product that makes pot use more mainstream? Freedman thinks so. Even his mother is getting in on the act.

“It’s amazing to see how quick normalization is happening. That’s always been my goal; I want to make my mom feel comfortable with the whole idea of cannabis, and I just gave her a vaporizer for her birthday. So, you know, if that says anything, it’s that normalization in those different communities—the older demographics, higher wage-earning demographics—is definitely changing, and cannabis is becoming more socially acceptable way quicker than I could have assumed.”