More chocolate changes hands in February than any other month, and this year, chocolate maker David Little is adding a twist to the mix. Little’s new company, Jersey Canna, is among the Garden State’s first manufacturers of cannabis-infused chocolate edibles and, at press time, they were in the final stages before distribution could begin.
In November 2020, when the Garden State gave the nod for recreational-use dispensaries to join the medicinal retailers that had been open since 2012, a rush of soon-to-be sellers lined up. But as Little explains, getting into the cannabis business in this state takes a lot more than filling out a single form. “We are already approved to manufacture, now we are waiting for recipe approval,” he says.
“Every state is its own island in cannabis,” says Little, Jersey Canna’s president, who has educated himself on marijuana laws in the Garden State and beyond. To be a state-authorized New Jersey-licensed edible maker, the marijuana must be grown, extracted, processed and sold in the state. According to Little, Jersey Canna will be the first all-Jersey operation. “Made by all Jersey people,” he notes, adding that there will even be Jersey-inspired flavors like blueberry.
While Jersey-made edibles are a new introduction to dispensaries in this state, Little’s Jersey Canna brings a wealth of experience to the fore.
“Being an entrepreneur takes guts and money,” Little says. A former accountant, when he left the corporate world, he says, he wasn’t sure where he would land as an entrepreneur. But after undergrad at Emory University (where Little says he learned discipline, drive, and how to work 24 hours a day), grad school at Tulane University, and many years in the corporate world, he knew he’d figure it out. His first foray into business was a corporate-gifting venture that included chocolate items.
Little’s willingness to follow his instincts served him well, and before long, he was creating corporate incentive and loyalty gifts for big-name companies like Starbucks, Ghirardelli and Gevalia. “Chocolate is great because it is sharable,” Little says. At first, he adds, “we were basically taking existing retail products and repackaging them for the business-to-business market. At some point, we just started making our own.” Little sources Belgian chocolate as the base for his blends.
Once Christian Dior came calling for a chocolate product, Little pulled in chefs for the chocolate making, a move that eventually led to a handful of chocolate-themed business offshoots, including Edible Art, classic paintings with chocolate as the canvas; Chocolate Text, chunky chocolate letters to spell whatever a client wants; and, finally, Immunity Goodness—chocolates, that Little, with his team of food techs, scientists and pharmacists, cook up with infusions of vitamins, herbs and minerals to serve as sleep aids, boost immunity, ease nausea, and even soothe tired eyes.
Nutraceuticals—the addition of nutritional supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals and CBD (a non-psychoactive element of the cannabis plant) into foods, tinctures, lozenges and beverages—have exploded in recent years, and the experience Little and his team’s had infusing chocolate positioned them perfectly to capitalize on the trend when it expanded to cannabis.
“Our goal is to use our knowledge to create products that help people with the maladies of their daily lives, and not just to cash in on the cannabis boom,” Little says, pointing out that he and his team members are mostly over 60 and “not even pot users,” but they have a wellspring of varied business experience and recognize the breadth of the cannabis industry.
Little—who wears nearly every hat in the company—has a team of fewer than 10 employees, including a chocolate chef, a cannabis expert and back-of-house employees, plus a long, varied list of consultants, from scientists and lawyers to compounding pharmacists. “Experience is our strength,” says Little. “The cannabis business has two kinds of people: experts in food processing and people who grew up in the cannabis world. We have both. Plus, we have 30 years’ experience with food safety and recipe formulation.”
He explains, “Our focus is on functional THC (the psychoactive element in cannabis). Our main thrust is to use nutraceuticals to get the maximum benefits out of cannabinoids to help people sleep, to energize them, and to help with anxiety. Some of our blends may have less than the standard level of THC for a psychoactive high, but instead will have formulations that help other issues.” Little’s health-supporting candies are designed to be preventive for particular ailments, while being less expensive and more available than pharmaceuticals.
“All edibles are not created equally,” he cautions. “Smoking weed is instantaneous, a cheap way to deliver THC, and smoking burns off some of the impurities. It is not as risky as eating an edible. Chocolate makes the THC more bioavailable because edibles travel to your stomach and then the liver before entering the brain and bloodstream. You see edibles everywhere, but gas-station and convenience-store products aren’t likely state approved. There’s a big knockoff market, and you take some risk buying them.” By comparison, Little’s chocolates are individually dosed candies that make it easy to control your intake.
“Our product is the difference between buying bread at the bakery and buying bread at the supermarket,” says Little.