FRAMINGHAM — Cannabis-infused ice cream will soon slide onto the shelves of a select number of marijuana shops, and a Framingham manufacturer is behind the product.
For 19 years, chef David Yusefzadeh has worked in restaurants in Chicago, Atlanta and even Hong Kong. Today he’s founder and CEO of Cloud Creamery, the state’s first cannabis-infused ice cream manufacturer.
The creamery operates under the “Plant Jam” brand, which Yusefzadeh, a Framingham resident and medical marijuana patient, is running with Chief Operations Officer Sean Couture and Chief Marketing Officer Kate Avruch.
They’re ready to start churning out THC-infused ice cream from a kitchen at 119 Herbert St., and hope to have it on the shelves at select stores by April 20, said Yusefzadeh. (The term “420” is cannabis culture slang for marijuana and hashish consumption, and also refers to cannabis-oriented celebrations that occur on April 20.)
The business is awaiting approval from the state Cannabis Control Commission on when it can officially begin operating, he said.
The creamery is partnering with 14 shops to sell the first batch of its ice cream, said Yusefadeh, including Native Sun in Hudson, Caroline’s Cannabis in Uxbridge and Stem in Haverhill.
Last month, Cloud Creamery received its final license from the CCC and recently ordered its packaging. It will offer three flavors to start: dark chocolate truffle, Tanzanian vanilla and mango yuzu sorbet. Ingredients are being sourced from environmentally sustainable farms in Tanzania and Latin America, Yusefadeh said.
Other flavors in the pipeline include cookie dough, vanilla with oat milk and an heirloom tomato sorbet using tomatoes from a farm in Sudbury. Yusefadeh said some collaborations are being planned with celebrities, although he can’t say with whom yet. But from those arrangements, a portion of the sales will be donated to charity.
Each 8-ounce container of ice cream will contain 5 milligrams of THC — that’s considered a single dose under state regulations — and any effects should kick in after about 15 minutes, according to Yusefzadeh.
Yusefzadeh conceded that some cannabis users won’t want to buy something containing only 5 milligrams of THC.
“We feel like the majority of the population, A, hasn’t tried an edible or B, has tried an edible and has not enjoyed the experience,” he said. At 5 milligrams, Yusefzadeh said the product is easier to try without feeling overwhelmed.
Cloud Creamery infuses its edibles in a manner that’s different from others on the market, he said, saying most are made with distillate, a refined cannabis oil. By comparison, Yusefzadeh said Cloud Creamery will use full spectrum extract, which contains the full spectrum of active components in cannabis that also give it more flavor.
Yusefzadeh first tried edibles three years ago and discovered cannabis could ease the symptoms he experiences from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition defined by digestive problems and abdominal pain.
“A big part of dealing with autoimmune diseases is having confidence every day to go to the grocery (store), or do anything that most people don’t even worry about,” he said.
He has since discontinued medications he had been on, including Remicade, and is just using cannabis.
Raised in Kentucky, Yusefzadeh began experimenting with infusing THC into food while at college in Minneapolis. He gradually turned to making infused butter that morphed into infused caramel sauce and infused cream. Years later he moved to Massachusetts to attend graduate school at Boston University, and ate edibles for the first time.
He views them as a way to spice up taking THC without having to inhale anything or wince through droplets of it directly on the tongue.
“For us, it’s about giving people a plant-based option that doesn’t feel like medication,” Yusefzadeh said.
THC-infused ice cream sandwiches and frozen lemonade are on the horizon for Cloud Creamery, along with producing infused truffle salt and taco seasoning, he said. A partnership is planned with Western Front, an economic empowerment dispensary in Chelsea, to launch an infused Caribbean seasoning and ice cream.
‘We waited around 23 months’
While Cloud Creamery is excited to begin churning out ice cream, Yusefzadeh said it’s been a rocky road.
“It’s been frustrating, because we don’t feel the support for small-business owners (from the CCC),” he said. “They’re not here for small-business owners.”
Because an application to the CCC cannot be submitted without an address for the proposed business’ location, Yusefzadeh said the business began renting its facility in Framingham after applying for a license in 2018. He said he spent months trying to get answers to questions after the company’s application was rejected without explanation, saying he was usually ignored and left waiting but also paying rent for a facility with no stream of income.
“They don’t interact with you, engage with you, answer any questions, don’t provide any support or HR for quite some time,” he said. “All in all, we waited around 23 months.”
He said he’s spoken to other small cannabis business owners who feel similarly, and found it especially difficult to handle amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t know how they expect small-business owners to get through that, especially during COVID,” he said, adding that Cloud Creamery’s kitchen has been ready for production since last year. “We sat here and waited, and watched other out-of-state companies get their licenses ahead of us.”
According to a CCC spokesperson, the speed of the application process varies, and said the agency is responsive to applicants’ questions.
“The Commission and its staff will continue to put first public health and safety in the review of all license applications,” said the spokesperson. “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 entity’s ability to ultimately gain compliance with the Commission’s regulations and achieve a final license. The very nature of a licensee requesting a waiver of Commission requirements indicates that licensee is pursuing something that is out of compliance or inconsistent with the regulations.”
According to the CCC website, the commission is prohibited from giving applicants legal or business advice. During a budget hearing in February 2020, commission Chairman Steven Hoffman told the Joint Ways and Means Committee that the average wait time for an initial license review was 121 days. The commission wants to improve on that, he said, and the agency is requesting funding to hire more staff and cut the average wait time to 60 days.
Yusefzadeh said one of Cloud Creamery’s goals is to help other small cannabis businesses, notably those that are minority-owned. The creamery plans to expand by another 3,200 square feet in its existing building to allow other businesses to use it as startup space.
He also knows there are organizations that don’t want to be associated with cannabis, even when scientific studies show it can help the very people those organizations aim to help.
As an example, Yusefzadeh reached out to the national Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to see if the creamery could donate a portion of sales to it. But the foundation declined, he said, on the basis of his business being cannabis-related.
Patrons can’t eat Cloud Creamery’s ice cream at local ice cream parlors, cafés or dispensaries for now, he added, as the state is still debating on whether to allow this. But Yusefzadeh saids it’s a huge miss for Massachusetts’ marijuana industry if it doesn’t happen.
“I think the state of Massachusetts is going to miss out on being a leader in the country as a hub (for cannabis),” he said.
Even if the state doesn’t become the edible epicenter of the U.S., Yusefzadeh said he’s proud that Cloud Creamery could be a leader in the state for it — at least in frozen form.
Lauren Young writes about business and pop culture. Reach her at 774-804-1499 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurenwhy__.