Capped at 60% THC, Concentrates a Struggle for Vermont Manufacturers
The market is open, shops are popping up in every corner of the state, and flower and edibles seem to be the hot items on the market so far. Customers are wondering where they can find vape cartridges, concentrates, and high potency edibles, but they’re almost nowhere to be found on shelves.
Restrictive legislation, which many cannabis businesses and advocates are calling heavy-handed and burdensome, is largely to blame for the absence of these products.
Cannabis vape cartridges can be found at most shops, but they come at a hefty price thanks to an overreaching wholesale vape tax on e-cigs.
One thing that’s even harder to find is high-potency solid concentrates, due to a cap of 60% THC on these products, built into the 2020 bill that legalized cannabis for sale in Vermont.
“Having to add diluents or fillers … to get it under a certain cannabinoid percentage is counter to the whole idea, and it’s just kind of against our ethos.”
— Chris Phillips at Northwoods Extracts
Early last summer Phil Scott signed S.188 into law, which, among other things, maintained the THC cap on solid concentrates in its final language – despite a push by advocates to remove it.
Solid concentrates make up a small, but significant portion of the state’s existing illicit market, the Vermont Cannabis Control Board said in its December report, representing an estimated 4%-8% of consumption and an estimated $12.7 million to $25.4 million in revenue.
These restrictions are not only affecting consumers and retailers, they affect product manufacturing for businesses across the state – in particular, those for whom concentrates are the main focus, and the only product they are manufacturing.
“The point of extraction is purification to isolate the beneficial compounds found in the cannabis plant and separate them from the unwanted ones,“ said Chris Phillips of Northwoods Extracts. “Having to add diluents or fillers to purify product in order to get it under a certain cannabinoid percentage is kind of counter to the whole idea, and it’s just kind of against our ethos.”
Another limit affecting the manufacturing of solid concentrates is a restriction on certain solvents such as butane.
“That kind of prevents the creation of a number of concentrate consistencies, like batter, shatter and diamond sauce,” said Phillips.
These restrictions leave manufacturers having to create a purified product – and then dilute it with a filling agent in order to keep it below 60% THC.
“Extraction artists are meant to bring out the purest essence of the plant and for the ultimate consumer experience. A pure, professionally made cannabis extract is going to be greater than 60% THC,” said Phillips.
Until these restrictions are lifted, Northwoods Extract is putting all of their focus into vape cartridges – which have no THC limit.
The effects of the potency cap go beyond troubles with manufacturing methods and limited product creation. They are also affecting the cost of production, which is hurtful to grassroots business.
Hope Aguilera and Justin Massie at Low-Key Alchemy are seeing this issue now. Specializing in ice water extraction, a solventless process, one of their goals is to bring ‘traditional hashish methods into the modern timeframe with current equipment.’
“So, by the very nature of what we make, it’s pretty hard to put it onto the shelf, because they just naturally tend to end up in the 60 to 70% range, just over the line,” said Massie.
Because of this, Aguilera and Massie are working to find specific cultivars that will fit the requirements of the potency cap.
“We have to be selective with our material in a way that we aren’t usually…. now we have to specifically search for cultivars that are heavy with minor cannabinoids.” — Justin Massie, Low -Key Alchemy
“We have to be selective with our material in a way that we aren’t usually. We’re generally in this process selecting for flavor and complexity and the quality of the resin itself,” said Massie. “And as a side note, I will search for high amounts and minor cannabinoids naturally, but now we have to specifically search for cultivars that are heavy with minor cannabinoids.”
Now having to search for certain specifics in their cultivars, this ramps up the frequency of their testing as they search for certain cannabinoids and THC levels. They now have to continue testing their products over and over – which becomes costly.
“With our costs and overhead that are so extremely high just to exist as a cannabis manufacturer, we have to have income coming in. Especially us as a grassroots business or other small family businesses that don’t have investors. That could be something that puts them out of business,” said Aguilera.
Not only is this process tedious and costly, these factors eventually lead to an inferior product, said Massie, noting that the product should be packaged fairly soon after production to maintain the integrity of the product and its terpenes.
“By us having to constantly test and test and test and test to find the right fraction, or cultivars, that will produce a concentrate of 60%, the actual products are just honestly degrading to a degree,” he said.
And on top of all of that, there are health concerns that come along with consuming these limited products. The 60% THC cap means that unnecessary plant matter may be consumed, which increases the inhalation of carcinogens.
“By ingesting a higher potency concentrate, you are inhaling less carbohydrates, less unnecessary plant fats and waxes and flavonoids. And you require lower dosage amounts,” said Massie.
In its December report to the legislature, the Control Board recommended, again, that the state remove its THC potency caps for cannabis concentrates.
Last month, on Wednesday, February 8, Senators Richard Sears and Kesha Ram Hinsdale introduced bill S.72, which looks to remove these potency caps. It was read for the first time and is currently sitting in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
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