Last Call: California’s High-Potency Edible Makers Crank Out Final Batches

Published on December 27, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020

The 52 employees of Korova Edibles in Oakland are working overtime through the holidays, churning out super potent treats in a historic last call before the company transitions into the low-dose restrictions of the regulated era.

Founded in 2011, Korova established itself as one of California’s most renowned purveyors of high-octane cannabis products. The company’s billboards featured a three-eyed cow in a derby hat—an inspiration from the 1971 psychedelic flick, A Clockwork Orange—and its marketing slogan promised “Unrivaled Potency.”

Korova's 'Black Bar' clocks in at a whopping 1,000 mg THC, ten times the dose allowed in 2018.

Dedicated cannabis customers delighted in Korova’s high-THC offerings, topped by its famous “Black Bar” and “Mint Black Bar.” The chocolatey delights packed a whopping 1,000 mgs of THC into every bar. The big-time dose served patients with acute medical needs, and allowed others to ration out medicinal nibbles over days—if not weeks.

But Kovova’s max-potency products will soon disappear from the legal cannabis market as a result of new California regulations that take effect on Jan. 1. As a result, the Oakland company is hoping to produce its last 60,000 high-potency bars by midnight on Dec. 31.

That’s the last day licensed manufacturers in California can produce edibles exceeding the state’s new potency limits of 100 mgs per bar or package, with individual doses or pieces not to exceed 10 mgs. That’s some woefully weak chocolate compared to Korova’s previous standards.

A High-Dose Strategy Rendered Obsolete

Korova CEO Steve Adkins said the state’s new regulations put his company in a bind. “When the regulations came out, the way they were written,” he said, “it went totally against our product line.”

Korova's CEO faces a big challenge: Rebrand the entire product line.

Now Adkins, who joined the cannabis edibles company last spring after working as an executive with Jamba Juice, is facing a serious marketing challenge: rebrand Korova and change its entire product line.

But first, the company is firing up production with its characteristic “unrivaled potency” in one final manufacturing push.

As long as Korova edibles exceeding the state limits can roll out of its factory by end the Dec. 31st, they can be sold to medical and adult use consumers at California dispensaries in 2018. Korova’s hardest hitters, including its Black Bar  and its famed ‘5150’ bar—a 500 mg THC half-brownie/half cookie nicknamed for the California welfare code for crazy—aren’t expected to last long on cannabis store shelves.

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Even Korova’s weaker treats, chocolates and confections between 150 and 250 mgs, delineated into 50 mg doses, had packed a bigger punch than most edibles in the California market. Now those will be replaced by Korova’s emerging product line: 10-piece packs of “mini cookies,” checking in at doses of 10 mg per cookie.

Unrivaled Potency

In addition, Korova will be broadening its offerings by partnering with a licensed indoor cultivator in Oakland to market a line of cannabis buds—called Korova Flower—starting in January.

2017’s slogan…

“Right now, we are an edibles company,” Adkins said. “But we will be expanding into other cannabis products.”

The CEO says Korova hopes to bank on its robust name recognition to retain its place in the market, even with lower potency products.

…adapted for 2018.

Kovova still displays its ubiquitous billboards and three-eyed cow in California communities (though recent state legislation banned the ads from some interstate highways.) Now the company’s signs simply say “Unrivaled.” Gone is that other word: “Potency.”

Even with decidedly reduced punch for medicinal or adult use consumers, Korova’s edibles will still be labeled with the company’s humorous warning about over-consumption: a caricature of a passed out dude with a handlebar mustache and the punchline, “You can always eat more, but you can’t eat less.”

Kiva’s Microdosing Strategy

While Korova is racing to put a last batch of potent products on the market, other edibles companies are also working through the holidays to refashion and repackage products to adhere to the California regulations that kick in on Jan. 1.

Oakland-based Kiva Confections, the state’s largest edibles manufacturer, doesn’t face nearly the same challenges in refining its product lines. Kiva’s top pre-regulation chocolate bars topped out at 180 mg, and the company specialized in promoting microdosing products such as its 2.5 mg THC mints and 5 mg chocolate blueberries and coffee beans.

Kiva is putting temporary stickers on its elegant packages to meet the new regs. 'It's like going to the prom with a big pimple on your face,' says co-founder Kristi Knoblich.

But Kiva co-founder Kristi Knoblich says the company is still scrambling, racing to meet production demands for new 100 mg bars and repacking and labeling other products. Consumers buying the company’s tins of mints will soon get 40 mints instead of 42, so packages can stay within the 100 mg total THC threshold. Consumers buying Kivas’ berries and beans will wind up with 20 pieces instead of 24, with higher prices due to new taxes on production and sales.

Meanwhile, Knoblich is fretting over having to put temporary stickers, for new potency and content, over the company’s elegantly adorned packages and product containers.

“It is a bit of a scramble,” she said. “The state came out with the emergency regulations (for Jan. 1 adult-use sales) right around Thanksgiving. We are trying to get our packaging as compliant as quickly as possible. We’re ordering new packaging and changing our labeling for potency. All of that takes time. So our Kiva products may not be as beautiful for the first couple of months (of 2018), which is so hard for me to say out loud.”

“It’s like going to the prom with a big pimple on your face.”

The Downside of Lower Potency for Patients

At Korova, company officials waged a big fight through much of 2017 to try to convince state regulators, including the California Bureau of Cannabis Control and the state Department of Public Health, to allow for higher potency cannabis edibles on the market.

Company founder Joe Gerlach protested after the Department of Health declared that it was concerned about edibles consumers ingesting — often unintentionally—far higher concentrations of THC than they can tolerate.

Kiva CEO Scott Palmer, center, and COO Kristi Knoblich Palmer, right, made adjustments to their product line to meet the new dosing and labeling rules. (Carla K. Johnson/AP)

Gerlach argued that state regulators weren’t considering that many medical cannabis patients—such as those with cancer, intractable pain or intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease—have a very high tolerance for THC and require potent edibles. He said suggested rules that could forcing patients to devour more treats (and conversely more butter, sugar and calories) to get the same medicinal effect weren’t a healthy alternative.

“I think our main goal is to find something that is a compromise to definitely keep public safety in mind but also to keep the patients in mind,” Gerlach said.

So Korova lobbied hard, with its executives testifying at hearings against over-regulating medical cannabis as well as denying consumers products with higher values (based on THC per price).

One Final Push Through Dec. 31

Now, having lost the argument, Adkins says Korova is “ramping up the production of potent edibles to meet the demand for those who want to purchase them” before the supply dries up for good.

“We’ve gone on a 24/7 schedule and we are trying to produce as many Black Bars and 5150s and our other high dose products as possible,” he said.

The CEO says he hopes California consumers in turn will later come back to buy Korova’s new cannabis flowers and its new low-dose cookies.

“We know the rules of the game now,” Adkins said. Though less than happy with the outcome, he said, “We will apply all the expertise we have to create a different array of cannabis products for consumers that are high quality–and worthy of the Korova name.”

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Peter Hecht
Peter Hecht
Peter Hecht, former political writer and Los Angeles bureau chief for the Sacramento Bee, has been reporting on cannabis since 2009. His coverage has been honored for explanatory reporting in the "Best of the West" journalism awards and earned an Excellence in Journalism prize from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Hecht is the author of the book “Weed Land: Inside America’s Marijuana Epicenter and How Pot Went Legit.”
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