As Massachusetts looks toward the end of a long pandemic winter, local chef David Yusefzadeh offers this daydream of a happier summer: Returning home from the beach on a hot afternoon, you skip the old-fashioned ice cream stand and head to your local marijuana store for a cup of Michelin star-worthy mango yuzu sorbet — infused with just enough cannabis oil to make that evening’s sunset extra glorious (and the sunburn sting a bit less).
That vision is more than mere fantasy, after regulators at the Cannabis Control Commission voted earlier this month to award Yusefzadeh’s Framingham-based Cloud Creamery a final license. The frozen edibles company, the first of its kind in the state, hopes to begin shipping three flavors of marijuana-infused ice creams to 14 partner dispensaries in time for the traditional “420″ cannabis holiday on April 20, when legal pot sales typically peak for the year.
Yusefzadeh, a veteran chef who has managed a number of prestigious kitchens, said the project has deeply personal origins: He suffers from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition that caused him excruciating pain, making sleep nearly impossible and threatening to derail his career in high-end cuisine.
Ultimately, Yusefzadeh discovered that cannabis edibles before bed helped far more than pharmaceutical prescriptions — but found the offerings at Massachusetts dispensaries lacking.
“It’s all candy, high-fructose syrup, pork gelatin, and artificial coloring,” he said. “I was like, ‘Where’s the food?’ There’s no story. It’s just to get you high.”
Convinced he could do better, Yusefzadeh founded Cloud Creamery with the idea of making a cannabis medicine that was delicious and appealing as a food in its own right.
The ultra-gourmet ice creams he eventually formulated are more typical of the varied offerings in mature pot markets on the West Coast, where licensed edibles producers have diversified into everything from seltzers to vegan protein bars to pizza sauce (though regulations in some states, including California, ban perishable dairy products such as ice cream).
Sales of edibles have surged during the pandemic as consumers look to alleviate stress, boredom, and sleeplessness while avoiding smoking. Cannabis-infused beverages, including hoppy (but non-alcoholic) beer replacements are especially hot, according to several industry experts.
Cloud Creamery’s initial lineup includes the sorbet (yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit) plus Tanzanian vanilla and dark chocolate truffle ice creams, with the main flavors sourced directly from small, environmentally sustainable producers overseas. Each will be sold in an individual 8-ounce container for about $9 and infused with cannabis oil containing 5 milligrams of THC, the compound primarily responsible for the drug’s characteristic high.
Eventually, the firm plans to release a variety of other gourmet-quality edibles under the “Plant Jam” brand and additional frozen treats under the Cloud Creamery name. All will use so-called “full spectrum” marijuana oil, which in addition to THC retains other cannabinoids and aromatic terpenes from the cannabis plant, adding flavor and producing a more nuanced psychoactive effect.
“The whole basis of our company is to deliver a real experience and create something you actually want to eat, not just, ‘OK, I guess I have to get my 5 milligrams by choking this down,’ ” Yusefzadeh said. “We want to offer something much higher quality.”
Elise McDonough, a cannabis cookbook author and brand manager at California marijuana producer CannaCraft, said the uninspiring selection of infused food at many legal dispensaries is largely a byproduct of strict state regulations that ban or make it difficult to produce perishable edibles.
Many manufacturers prefer shelf-stable candies such as chocolate bars because they’re simpler to package in childproof containers, and can easily be made homogeneous and divided into discrete, single-dose portions that each contain the same amount of THC, a requirement in Massachusetts and practically everywhere that pot is legal.
Overall, McDonough said, the edibles sector is slowly segmenting. Some operators are pushing “microdose” products with very small quantities of THC, chasing older or less experienced customers who perhaps fear reliving the time they ate too many pot brownies in college. Other firms are courting cannabis connoisseurs with products containing higher doses, or infused with more exotic cannabinoids. Still more are appealing to foodies.
“As time goes on, we’ll see more edibles that are gourmet, that are trendy, and that use super high-quality ingredients,” McDonough said. “Unfortunately, when you have high-cost inputs like that, and then you add on the high taxes and the cost of all the regulations, that’s how you end up with $25 chocolate bars.”
In Massachusetts, regulations almost tripped up Cloud Creamery’s journey to opening. The company first applied for a license in 2018, but Yusefzadeh said that regulators at the cannabis commission almost entirely ignored his repeated requests for clarity on how he should package his ice cream to comply with its regulations on childproof containers, serving size, and dosing.
The delay meant he paid rent for years on an empty manufacturing space while forgoing millions in potential sales, even as numerous other marijuana companies that applied more recently won licenses. Yusefzadeh argued the ordeal might have prevented many other small businesses from opening at all, and predicted it would discourage innovation in the legal edibles sector.
“It was nuts,” Yusefzadeh said of the application process. “If someone had just talked to us for half an hour two years ago, we could have saved so much time, stress, and money.”
Commission chairman Steve Hoffman last week told reporters that Cloud Creamery represented “a new expansion of terms of the product offering in the [marijuana] industry, and I think that’s a good thing.” He also acknowledged commission staffers “had some issues with respect to the packaging” and “went back to the applicant,” who then revised its plan.
But Yusefzadeh insisted the commission “never engaged us about the packaging,” beyond summarily denying one request for a waiver from certain requirements.
A commission spokeswoman defended the agency’s handling of Cloud Creamery’s license application.
“Contrary to this licensee’s assertions, commission staff are responsive to inquiries over the course of their review of all license applications, including this one, as evidenced by the [company’s] ability to ultimately... achieve a final license,” she said. “The very nature of requesting a waiver indicates a licensee is pursuing something that is out of compliance.”