Over the past 18 months, Fritz, a craft cannabis producer in Toronto, estimates he has made more than 250,000 cannabis-infused gummies. Every one of them has been illegal.
Despite a new poll showing a full third of Canadian consumers prefer to eat their cannabis, the Canadian government has said they will not be ready to regulate an edible market until 12 months after legalization is introduced. For now, producers like Fritz, who is one of hundreds, labor precariously, building up small businesses that face an uncertain future, while the legalization boom awaits.
In a previous life, Fritz worked downtown in Toronto’s financial district, wearing a suit and tie and putting his MBA to use. “I was all about that life, then one day I realized how fucking unhappy I was,” he says. “And then I realized I could make money doing what I love.”
Fritz runs his own family business now, with him and his wife developing the products, branding the company, and taking all the steps small businesses face, but doing so without the help of a staff or a bank loan or advertisers. There have been some stumbles along the way, because there always is, but Fritz has learned and adapted and refined his process, even when it comes to cooking.RelatedToronto’s Pop-Up Edibles Market Preps for the Legal Future
When he started he was infusing everything—lollipops, gummies, cereal bars, granola—using bud. Then he moved to shatter, but the poor taste and the remnants of butane left him feeling uneasy about the final product. Then, about a year ago, distillate came on the scene.
“[Distillate] was a game changer,” he explains. “All of a sudden I had a lab-tested, refined, exactly dosed product that is only THC.”
But the price reflected that ease and innovation. When it was first introduced, a single ounce of distillate fetched more than a thousand dollars on the black market. The price has come down significantly since then, and Fritz has found a lab-tested supplier. For months before that, however, when he needed supplies he was meeting someone in a parking lot off of the highway. This is the framework that Fitz, and others like him, are currently operating in.
“I’m looking over my shoulder all the time,” he admits. “I really think that everyone should have safe access to cannabis in every form. I think it’s unfortunate that people don’t have access to edibles and the hoops they have to jump through to get them. So that’s what we try to do, we try to fill that space.”
Fritz believes that once legalization arrives, there’s room for everyone at the table, from the large international conglomerates to the smaller craft operations like his own. For now, he’s choosing to remain hopeful.
“I could stay up all night worrying about it, but the truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he says. “Come July, I may not have a business. They may come down so hard on craft cannabis that it might not be worth it. I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
When legalization arrives, Fritz, and other small businesses like his, could see their livelihoods disappear.
In the Kitchen With Fritz
“We’re cooking here.”
It’s early on a December morning, and Fritz is leaning forward over a stove, eyes level with a roiling pot. He’s making lollipops, one of his most popular items, and keeping an eye on a temperature gauge. A difference of just a few degrees separates a good batch from one that can’t be sold.
He moves through the kitchen in quick strides, going from pot to pot, hovering over everything with an intense focus, but also a detectable happiness. Watching him work, it’s obvious he enjoys what he’s doing.
As you may expect for a business that is not legal, Fritz’s rise has been unconventional. He attributes much of his success to Bunz Trading Zone, a Facebook group and online bartering service in Toronto, where users swap goods and services in return for other goods and services. The only rule is no cash can change hands.
“Bunz was unbelievable and absolutely instrumental in starting this business,” he discloses.
He began by making brownies, which he would then trade on Bunz for more ingredients. Then he moved to gummies and traded them for gelatin. Effectively, Bunz became a test market and the grounds for his product development. Fritz was compulsive about following up with people, asking them about everything from the taste to the experience. He would then take that input and make adjustments to his recipes.
Another thing he found?
“Everybody loves weed. I’d say one out of 10 people will say ‘no’ to trading for edibles. I got my first vacuum sealer on Bunz, all my first inputs, all of it came from Bunz.” He also found a graphic designer and artist. Suddenly, through the resourcefulness of a sharing economy, he was employing people.
Fritz also sells his wares online, through mail-order services, and at Toronto’s Green Market pop-up events (which are basically farmers markets for cannabis). Medical and recreational users can purchase products—juices, teas, baked goods, tinctures, oils, creams and topicals—from local suppliers and craft producers. These events are illegal, but the police, usually given notice beforehand, have yet to interfere.
“When we started there was just a handful of edibles companies, and within a half year they had tripled or quadrupled,” Fritz shares. And he is happy for it. The market demands it and the competition, he explains, is good for everyone. There is room to maneuver without stepping on someone else’s businesses.
Fritz has also stayed out of the routinely raided Toronto dispensaries, on the basis that he doesn’t need any additional worries. “I’d like to (be in the dispensaries). It’s a huge market, but I don’t need my shit sitting in an evidence locker every other week. I support free access and I support the dispensaries doing what they are doing, but it’s definitely a risk.”
Like Fritz, the dispensaries could soon see their businesses imperiled. “It’s unfortunate because there is room for everyone, and if you really want to spur economic growth, you do that from the ground up,” he says. “Otherwise, the only people that are going to be in this business are the multimillionaires.”
Minding His Business and Hoping for the Best
“Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick to anyone.”
This is another lesson Fritz has learned along the way. “Customer service is the most important thing,” he clarifies, while dipping lollipops in a sour sugar mix. One of the most edifying things about this venture, Fritz explains, is hearing the stories from people who have used his products to try and make positive changes in their lives, whether it’s treating anxiety or depression, or kicking other habits, like opiate addiction.
When he finishes up the batch this morning, Fritz will be on the move again, this time sending some CBD tincture to a mother on the other side of the country, who’s hoping it will help treat her non-verbal, autistic son.
“I really believe in the healing power of cannabis,” Fritz attests. “It’s so unfortunate and sad that stigma and regulation is preventing this child from having a higher quality of life. That kind of extends into why I do this. I believe in cannabis.”
On a lighter, and more macro level, he has other reasons. “I just love getting people high. It’s a good feeling.” He mentions his in-laws are coming by for dinner on the weekend. “I pop two gummies and it’s the greatest dinner I’ve ever had. It feels good to do that for other people. Medically, recreationally, I don’t care. Everyone should have access to cannabis. Everyone. I really believe that.”
Fritz admits that the business may be approaching its final days in its current form. But it’s not all bad. Legalization, in effect, might actually prove beneficial if he can find a way to stay afloat.
“Come July, you have introduced legal weed but you say you can’t eat it. So my marketshare is going to increase when legalization hits,” he says. But that’s the best-case scenario. Worst case? He doesn’t like to dwell on that.
“There are times where it causes me so much anxiety that I say ‘Is this worth it?’ I have a family to think about. A life to think about. I’m a criminal for making edibles. That’s such a weird thing to me.
“I don’t know what happens in six months. I know I don’t want to stop. I know I love what I’m doing, but I don’t know if I’ll able to continue. Time will tell.”
Edibles Tips From Fritz
- “Go low and go slow. You can always take more, you can never take less.”
- “Tolerance and body weight play a factor but edibles metabolize through the liver, so your metabolism is the most important thing; that’s why it can take up to two hours to kick in.”
- “Wait. Just wait. Wait an hour and a half. Find your dose. It’s way better to take 10 milligrams and feel nothing, then taking 50 milligrams and finding out it’s too much.”
- “Have something fatty in your stomach. My favorite thing to do is eat a lollipop before dinner. By the time dinner is over, it starts to kick in.”