Will and Gwenelle Parks, who own the gourmet condiment company Saucier Willy in Baltimore County, specialize in concocting homemade sauces, syrups and seasonings using locally sourced produce. But recently, they’ve found success with a new ingredient: cannabis.
Once medical marijuana became legal for Maryland patients last December, the husband-and-wife duo realized they could blend their kitchen skills with their medicine of choice and fill a void by teaching others how to cook with it.
Maryland has banned infused food from its medical cannabis program, but nutritionists and chefs like the Parkses have partnered with dispensaries around the state to hold classes demonstrating how to make edibles at home. But they don’t actually cook with cannabis during the sessions; they use non-infused herbs, spices, butters and syrups in place of the drug.
The Parkses, both medically certified patients, have held about six such classes since July, some of which have sold out, they said.
“It is a need people are looking for and want to learn how to do,” Will, 30, said. “It’s a different way to take your medicine. Many people don’t want to do it the same old way.”
“You get a longer span of relief,” added Gwenelle, 34. “It takes longer to digest.”
While Maryland patients can’t purchase edibles, they can, under a gray area of the law, legally buy tinctures, tablets, powders and drinks alongside machines they can use to make cannabis-infused oils. Dispensary sales in Maryland have topped $68 million since last year and are expected to reach as much as $100 million by the end of 2018, blowing by projections from one of the cannabis industry’s leading market research firms.
By April 2018, 22,437 people were certified as patients by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. By November, that number had more than doubled.
Parks said their classes attract patients of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who don’t enjoy the sensation of smoking cannabis or the smell it emits. Kiara Walker, who attended one of the Parkses’ November classes at the Baltimore School of Food in Broadway East, said she wanted to learn how to make her own edibles so she could conveniently and discreetly carry around the only medicine she’s found that treats her gastroparesis, which limits her ability to digest.
“I used to vomit for days, but since I got my card, I’ve had none of that nausea,” Walker, 25, said. She said she looked forward to making gummy bears, chocolates and other sweets with her medicine.
Will Parks said people stigmatize edibles as recreational vehicles for “stoners who sit on the couch” rather than agents for long-lasting pain relief and comfort for people with debilitating conditions.
“You can abuse anything — food, alcohol, whatever it may be,” he said. “Dosing is the most important thing, and one of the most important things we get at in classes.”
Food infused with too much of the drug can lead to side effects ranging from forgetfulness to anxiety and hallucinations, according to Poison Control. Psychotic episodes and other complications are rare.
It requires a bit of math, but the Parkses explain to attendees how to evenly infuse the drug into a host of foods such as chocolate fudge brownies, “Canna Gummies,” smoothies, and even savory meats, breads and salad dressings. The recipes generally require substituting cannabis-infused butter or oil for regular butters and oils.
At a class before Thanksgiving, the couple demonstrated how to infuse cannabis into a holiday-themed spread, which included corn bread muffins (made with “canna butter” instead of real butter), turkey meatballs and gravy (also made by substituting “canna butter”), and chocolate-covered candies (made with “canna coconut oil”). They reviewed the process of converting the drug into edible forms but stressed that making or purchasing oil in the dispensaries before cooking speeds up the process.
Every student can take home a detailed packet of instructions or look up directions on the Saucier Willy website, which includes a link to a dosing calculator. This, Will Parks says, reinforces their mission of providing patients with safe, easy and accessible alternatives of medicating.
“Other states that have recreational use, a lot of things that are done, like cooking classes, are tailored more toward recreational crowds,” he said. “I don’t want us to be like that, because the medical community is more important, and we really want to tailor this to patients as something they can do quickly and easily.”
One such patient, Nicholas Briggs, 27, said he’s struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder since age 6, and cannabis is the only drug that seems to help reduce his symptoms without side effects. He enjoys making sweets and smoothies with his medicine and said the packet of instructions has helped as he experiments in the kitchen.
“It’s like making iced tea. Some people like it with a lot of sugar, some people don’t,” he said. “You can tailor it to your taste. It’s something everybody can do.”
But with classes often open to the public and directions posted online for all to see, the Parkses and other instructors have drawn criticism from marijuana advocacy groups who say these sessions encourage non-licensed use of the drug.
“This is nothing more than an attempt to subvert the regulations placed on the marijuana industry in the state,” Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a statement. “In states that have allowed the sale of these highly potent, THC-infused goods, children regularly end up in emergency rooms for accidentally ingesting the pot-laden brownies, cookies and gummies. These products are often impossible to discern from innocuous candies.”
Jason Klein, a cannabis law attorney at Offit Kurman’s Washington office, said there’s little evidence to back up that claim. He added that he hopes the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission will bring up the need to legalize edible products for medically certified patients in the 2019 legislative session.
“The handling of the product needs to be standardized,” Klein said. “The issue is there are people who want to have this, but how do we make it safe?”
Briggs said he thinks education and regulation in Maryland can combat misuse, as patients will continue to make and consume edibles with or without instruction.
“It’s all about exposure,” Briggs said, adding that he thinks of the Parkses as shoulders to lean on as he navigates the cannabis waters.
“They put all the information in your hands,” he said.