After recreational marijuana was legalized in Washington, some companies that already had been approved to work with food began asking if they could also start creating edible cannabis products.
At the time, around 2014, the answer was no – any business wanting to make marijuana-infused products still needed an official processor license from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board and a separate production facility.
“Most questions came from food processors wondering whether their current WSDA food processing license would permit them to process both conventional food products and food products infused with marijuana,” said Kirk Robinson, then-assistant director of the Washington Department of Agriclture’s Food Safety & Consumer Services Division.
So the LCB contracted the Department of Agriculture, which already inspects food processors, to provide a closer look at facilities that are producing marijuana-infused food products, like cookies or candies.
“These are products that are going to be consumed by people, so the facilities are held to the same standards,” said WSDA Communications Director Hector Castro.“Does the facility meet sanitary requirements? Are there hand-washing facilities and good ventilation? Are there separate stations for different stages of food processing? Those are the kind of things we’re looking for,” Castro said.
He said getting Agriculture involved helps companies focus on sanitation, something that sometimes may be overlooked in all the effort to get a new venture up and running.
“Businesses were focused on security of the operation, but they didn’t necessarily have a background in food processing,” Castro said of early inspections. “We’ve provided guidance to give them a sense of expectation.”
Along with basic sanitation, the Agriculture Department also can look for the presence, types and levels of pesticides, including flagging ones that are illegal for food products, following the adoption of another Liquor and Cannabis Board contract in 2016.
Erik Johansen, WSDA Registration and Licensing Services Program Policy Assistant, helped determine the criteria for 300-plus allowable pesticides in the production of marijuana.
“Pesticides must be applied according to label directions, both at the state and federal level,” Johansen said.
Under the pesticide inspection plan, WSDA will analyze approximately 75 samples monthly, which includes routine sampling and complaint-based testing when illegal pesticides are suspected.
“Testing for pesticides is a complex and costly process,” said LCB Director Rick Garza. “Labs need specialized equipment and highly-trained staff to carry out the tests. This agreement will satisfy those obstacles,”
The information about basic requirements for MIE processing facilities and other guidelines are available at agr.wa.gov. The list of pesticides, updated in early March 2017, is also available through the LCB, the Washington State Department of Health and the Washington State University Pesticide Information Center Online.