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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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Chocolate, the elixir of the gods. Sensual, aromatic, silky. A chocolate factory may conjure up images of Willy Wonka and hanging out with Johnny Depp in the chocolate factory along with some very busy Oompa Loompas making candy bars. If you can imagine the Oompa Loompas adding THC or CBD to the chocolate, it takes the experience to a whole other level. With sales of recreational cannabis edibles expected to soar to heights that may dwarf the Sandia Mountains, imagining a shortage of chocolate edibles with THC and CBD derived from marijuana, suddenly turns into the stuff of nightmares for dispensaries.

New Mexico dispensaries cannot legally sell cannabis edibles that have been made out of state. While dispensaries can make their own edibles, Bhang is the primary manufacturer of chocolate CBD and THC candy bars that are sold in many dispensaries in the state. With the legalization of cannabis this year, the demand for edibles is expected to go through the roof. Gummi bear and lollipop edibles are one thing; but when it comes to gourmet chocolate edibles, there is an epicurean crowd to please.

With the boom legalization has just fired off, New Mexico is clearly in need of chocolatiers who want to team up with dispensaries or float their own halo business to create a product that matches the expectations of decadent gourmet chocolate laced with cannabis.

I spoke with David Le who owns Cocopotamus with his wife Hieu Le. They make handmade gourmet chocolate truffles, gluten-free chocolate truffles, caramels and vegan truffles. He said he had been considering getting into the cannabis chocolate market for nearly five years.

“I have been interested in making cannabis chocolates and then took a step back from it because it’s not federally legal,” Le said. “Our range of buyers is nationwide, and we only have one shop here in Albuquerque. If I were to get into the cannabis industry, I would only be able to sell just in New Mexico. I’m not saying that it might not be worth it, but at the same time it’s not as appealing,” Le explained

Le is also a residential realtor in Albuquerque and said he is seeing property prices and everything else go through the roof since legalization. “Everything is starting to ramp up,” he said. If someone showed up and liked his product and had money to invest in a partnership, would he consider it? “There’s a slim chance,” Le said. “I am pretty hard-headed. I just really want to pick up the THC/CBD product and then add just one additional step to my chocolate making.”

Le said he is sitting on the fence watching to see what all the new laws will be, as it is not really financially viable right now to do it as a separate business. “I couldn’t use the same equipment. I would have to set up a separate shop, and it would be another $200,000 to $300,000 risk for me. It’s not that it’s not worth it, but it’s a little bit less appealing with that financial outlay just to sell in New Mexico.” He said there’s a lot of incentives from the state for different things. But most of them don’t apply to him because he doesn’t have employees, only contractors. “I cut my workforce from 10 to three with the pandemic, and now I’m having a difficult time hiring people to work again,” Le said.

Chocolate has a rich history. It is said to be an aphrodisiac. The Mayas of the Yucatan and Aztecs of Mexico cultivated cocoa, and it was used as currency in the middle Americas. The Spanish developed an interest in cocoa, and due to its scarcity, consumption was confined to the nobility. When Pope Pius V tasted a cup of chocolate, he was so disgusted with the taste that he gave up any thought of banning it under church rule as he believed no one would habitually consume such a product. Little did he know. … Hindsight is always 20/20.

Chocolate is rich in flavanols like catechin and epicatechin, as well as anthocyanins and phenolic acids to help protect your cells from inflammation, improve your brain function and boost your immune and cardiovascular health. In the study of cannabinoid receptors in the body, scientists discovered a “bliss molecule,” which is also called anandamide. Anandamide can have a great influence on the health, appetite, pleasure and motivation of a person. When chocolate with CBD or THC is consumed, receptors are activated and anandamide levels increase. This affects various cognitive processes, such as suppressing pain, normalizing sleep and improving mood and creating an improvement in anxiety disorders.

Troy Lowe, manager/chocolatier of the Chocolate Cartel Inc., said they’re trying to focus more on retail, especially after the pandemic that made margins really tight. “We already make CBD chocolates here, and we’re licensed to do so through the Environmental Department. We’ve stayed away from the THC market as our ‘sister company’ Bhang is solely involved in that, so it’s a non-compete.”

Lowe said he helped set up the facility for Bhang in Albuquerque and trained the initial staff in making chocolate edibles. He still works for Bhang during the holidays making gourmet chocolates. “I get people all the time coming into his shop for gourmet CBD chocolates saying that the dispensary CBD chocolate they bought [at other dispensaries] was horrible,” Lowe said.

Lowe feels the New Mexico market for high-end, boutique, cannabis-infused chocolate may take time to develop. “I personally don’t think the boutique chocolate will be big in the market until another couple of years.” Lowe believes one of the biggest problems with the cannabis industry in the state is a lack of infrastructure. “I have a huge manual full of rules, but the lack of infrastructure is the reason it took so long to get recreational cannabis legal in the state,” Lowe contended.

A whole ecosystem of suppliers, processors and distributors has sprouted up since New Mexico legalized medical cannabis in 2008. With the legalization of recreational cannabis this year, we can expect a lot more businesses to start as the industry is expected to boom.

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