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California’s marijuana edibles remain in food safety limbo

California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act has been in effect for a month now, but the state’s Department of Public Health hasn’t yet published or implemented food safety standards for so-called edibles.

However, the Act didn’t give the department a deadline. It simply states “the state department of public health shall develop standards for the production and labeling of all edible medical cannabis products.”


Ironically, those who most need the medicinal properties of edible medical marijuana products are also among those most likely to fall victim to foodborne pathogens. People with prescriptions for medical marijuana edibles, such as cancer patients, often have weakened immune systems and may be at increased risk of developing infections from exposure to foodborne pathogens.

The edibles, which range from chewing gum to brownies, are not considered food or drugs under California’s existing Health and Safety Code. They are in legal limbo in terms of food safety jurisdiction.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) amended the California Business and Professions Code, establishing what sponsors said was a comprehensive state licensing system for the commercial marijuana industry. An early version of the Act specified food safety procedures and sanitation requirements equivalent to the state’s Retail Food Code.

The food safety requirements included in the earlier version of the legislation were to be enforced by the state’s Public Health Department. Until the department develops and implements food safety standards for edible medical marijuana products, patients with prescriptions for such products will have to rely on the MMRSA’s minimal requirements for testing for peace of mind.

The Act’s requirements include testing edibles for foreign matter such as hair and insects and some “impurities” such as mold and aureus bacteria, aka Staphylococcus.

Common foodborne pathogens of Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes are not addressed in the Act.


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