It may not be legal, but marijuana-infused ice cream is now available in Calgary
'Remedy Ice Cream' challenges boundaries of law, highlights need for policy clarity, advocate says
Remedy Ice Cream is made in Calgary and infused with shatter — a concentrated form of marijuana.
The operation may not be legal but it's not exactly underground, either.
Co-founder Chris Vasconcellos says the ice cream is meant for licensed medical marijuana patients only. As a licensed user himself, he said he was looking for a different way to consume his medicine, which led him to the idea.
He doesn't have a licence to sell the drug, however, so he's wary of law enforcement — but still willing to talk publicly about what he does.
He's created a widespread online presence and has been making the rounds on pot-themed podcasts, promoting the product as a first of its kind in Canada.
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Vasconcellos said he makes the ice cream in small batches, each yielding about 30 four-ounce containers.
His online ads stipulate a minimum order of six containers — priced at $15 apiece — for orders within the city and 10 containers for customers elsewhere.
"We do local deliveries in Calgary and then for Canada-wide we do shipping, next day, with dry ice so it's guaranteed to arrive there frozen," he told CBC News.
He said customers are required to submit copies of their driver's licence and medical marijuana prescriptions.
"There's always that worry of being caught or hassled or questioned or arrested or anything like that," he said. "But really, any type of person that's in my industry has that type of fear."
And he's far from alone in the industry.
'People are getting creative'
Only one company in Alberta — the industrial-sized Aurora Cannabis — is currently licensed to sell medical marijuana, but that hasn't stopped budding entrepreneurs from starting their own, small-scale operations.
Jeff Mooij, owner of the 420 Clinic in Calgary, routinely turns people away who come to his Inglewood storefront, hoping it will stock their culinary cannabis concoctions.
"We get people — probably on a weekly basis — coming to show us their edible products that they've made and wanting us to help them sell it," Mooij said.
"It happens all the time and there is a demand for it, so it's not surprising people are getting creative."
The 420 Clinic doesn't actually provide any marijuana to its customers, but does sell products like vaporizers for consuming it. It also advises medical cannabis patients and helps them navigate the sometimes confusing federal system for legally accessing the drug.
Calgary police declined an interview but a spokesperson noted the only legal way to obtain medical marijuana is to order from a licensed producer and have it delivered through the mail.
While Aurora is the only licensed producer in Alberta, there are dozens across Canada — and a long list of applicants hoping for federal approval to join their ranks.
'Grey area' still a 'black market'
Vasconcellos said he looked into the licensing process, but it's more designed for large-scale growers than small-sized outfits producing edible forms of the drug.
With the legalization of recreational marijuana looming in 2018, he said there's an added level of competition among the sizeable but still semi-underground industry.
"With everybody and their brother kind of doing it, it's, you know, kind of a grey area for a lot of people," he said.
"So a lot of people are really just kind of taking the risks right now to try and get their name out there and promote business and stuff like that, just to hopefully be ahead of the game."
Remedy Ice Cream comes in a variety of flavours, from "Wake and Bake Coffee" to "Cookies and Dream" to "High Tea."
Vasconcellos described his unnamed partner in the venture as "pretty much a master creamer" and said they've figured out a way to ensure consistent dosing of THC — the active ingredient that provides pot's high.
"We've sat down with a couple of chemists and some formulators and we've come up with a custom formula that works for our ice cream. We also get our products tested, as well, from a lab," he said.
"We know exactly what we're getting per four-ounce container, so we know that we can ensure to our patients that this is what it says, unlike a lot of other products on the market."
But Mooij is skeptical.
He said proper dosing is tricky with edibles, even for experienced users consuming more regulated products, such as those available in U.S. jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized.
The 420 Clinic offers recipes and lessons for patients who want to infuse their own food with cannabis, he said, but buying edibles produced by someone else remains a dicey proposition in Canada.
"It's still a black market and you don't know where it's being made."
Pushing the boundaries
The situation, Mooij said, underlines the need for the federal, provincial and municipal governments to develop more coherent policies surrounding marijuana.
Across Canada, activists and entrepreneurs have been increasingly pushing the boundaries of the existing law, knowing it's soon due for a radical change.
Calgary police wouldn't comment on whether they're investigating Remedy Ice Cream or any other edible-marijuana producers, but Mooij figures small-scale operations wouldn't be a top priority when it comes to drug enforcement in the city.
"We have a person dying every two days in this city on fentanyl or opiates, so marijuana is very low down on the scale, and rightfully so," he said.
'Trying to do good'
The online reviews for Remedy Ice Cream on a popular marijuana website are stellar — a perfect five stars out of five, from 15 customers — and Vasconcellos said he's really proud of that.
He said he recognizes the risk in trying to grow the business but also he believes he's filling a void and providing a product that wouldn't otherwise be available for medical marijuana patients who prefer not to inhale their medicine.
"I have a family myself, so I really have to worry about that as well, but I'm also an entrepreneur and a businessman and I'm trying to really provide for my family and trying to do good for everybody else as well," he said.
"I'm trying to bring a product that is not in Canada yet, really."