Living the Dream: Shawn DeNae

Regulatory shifts delayed Washington Bud Company from bringing its medicinal lozenges to retail. By the time the products could be sold, similar recreational products had saturated the market.

Shawn DeNae

Washington Bud Company

Snohomish, Washington

The edible products that can be made with cannabis are as limited as the imagination. It is a wonder to witness all the types of THC-laced treats available to consumers — much more diverse than just the marijuana brownies of legend.

Two years ago, I was looking for a low-glycemic, naturally derived, whole-plant option in a microdose of THC and dominant in CBD. I believe that whole-plant cannabinoid profiles are better than isolated cannabinoids mixed up in a lab. I know that many of us react poorly to sugar — especially diabetic and cancer patients. There was nothing among the offerings that met those criteria.

That meant a hole in the market, so I went about filling it. Washington state has strict rules around what type of facility can make ingestibles. The kitchen must be approved by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and our property is not set up for that; we are a grow facility. I contacted a reputable candy-maker and described the item I envisioned. 

He suggested a lozenge that would slowly melt to deliver the cannabinoids sublingually. And because he is diabetic, he is also sensitive to the sugar issue and suggested low-fructose beet sugar that could be flavored any way I wanted.

But I didn’t want a non-cannabis flavor; I wanted terpene flavor! I like the taste of fresh cannabis with its pungent spice and I thought others would too, if given the chance. Fifteen pounds of our high-CBD Harlequin was sent off for CO2 extraction to provide the active ingredient. I wanted it raw, with the lipids and natural terpenes in it. What came back was a very terpy, honeycomb-colored oil that was sent to the candy-maker.

He was very clear that his reputation revolved around creating really good-tasting candy and he warned me that using raw oil, as opposed to distillate, would not taste good. I pushed on: “We are making medicine here so it’s okay to taste like medicine.” To add to the medicinal quality, we used turmeric and saffron that enhanced the color, creating a lozenge that has a smooth mouth-feel with simple, healthy ingredients.

The lozenges were individually sealed in 4-mil pouches and ready to send to our facility for final packaging, labeling and distribution. It was October 2017 and here the process halted. The traceability system would not allow the transfer of an edible to a non-WSDA-approved facility. Washington state was at the end of using BioTrack, and MJ Freeway’s LEAF system was not yet working. The Liquor and Cannabis Board folks were not willing to override that issue, and the lozenges sat, awaiting a solution.

Once LEAF came online months later, the transfer function was available, but Liquor and Cannabis Board policy was to only allow approved kitchens the ability to handle edibles. I countered that these were individually sealed, could not be contaminated and the rules allowed for processor-to-processor sales. The packaging and labels were already designed, but we did not have the approval to bring them to market.

At a Liquor and Cannabis Board meeting in the summer of 2018, I pleaded my case. During that meeting, a prominent lobbyist supported my efforts and helped get some clarification from the board regarding the issue. We finally made the transfer on Oct. 26, 2018!

That coincided with a Liquor and Cannabis Board emergency rule for edibles, which had to be certain shapes and colors and packaged in ways so not to appeal to children. The lozenges were heart-shaped and that was suddenly not acceptable after January 2019. We started over to create a disc-shaped version.

The packaging and labeling had to be quickly redesigned to meet the new, boring standard of black, brown, cream or white labels. As our designer got busy, I went to work with the state’s newly formed panel that would now approve all ingestible packaging.

The first issue was the name of the product: I wanted MICRO-DOSE LOZENGES. Nope, not approved. How about MICRO-DOZZZ LOZENGES (they help me sleep)? Nope. LOW DOSE? Nada. We ended up with MICRO LOZENGES. It took eight versions of the front label and 10 of the back before the product’s labels were approved. (Sometime around version four, the Liquor and Cannabis Board moved the deadline to January 2020; envision guttural scream here.)

Eighteen months after the first steps to bring this CBD-dominant, low-glycemic product to the market, they could finally be sampled to our retail buyers.

And the first two buyers spit them out!

During this time, the CBD isolate market exploded, so the lozenges now must compete with edibles touting unnaturally high levels of CBD, drastically changing the cost-to-cannabinoid ratios. The price point was no longer competitive. And most consumers neither understand nor value the difference between naturally balanced cannabinoid products and ones enhanced with isolates — and high numbers matter.

In this rapidly changing market, the window to gain any traction on these lozenges may have closed. It is hard for me to accept there may not even be a market. But in the meantime, I am sleeping better because of them!

 

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