When COVID-19 slammed shut the Canada-U.S. border, it threatened to isolate Todd Pringle’s chances of churning out cannabis-infused chocolate.
But on Thursday, the Calgary-based confectioner hurdled that barrier with technology to realize a sweet dream four years in the making.
Using laptops, iPads and cellphones, Pringle completed a virtual commissioning of a stainless steel phalanx of chocolate-making machines with the help of technicians in Buffalo, N.Y., at the other end of the video call.
“It was tough because the equipment was so loud, I had to put my earbuds in,” said Pringle, CEO of Wabi Sabi Branch chocolates.
“I used a cellphone to get right into the machine . . . (the technicians) were patient.”
In turn, he said, the American distributors turned to the equipment’s Italian manufacturers by video conference for further assistance to activate the six machines.
To assist the process, Pringle’s American counterparts referred to an assembly of equipment in their Buffalo lab that duplicated his.
It was a first for the American technicians, thousands of kilometres away, who didn’t want the name of their company revealed due to the sensitivity of the border-jumping conference call in the cause of cannabis edibles, which are still illegal under federal U.S. law, said Pringle.
“It probably would have been different if they were in Colorado, where’s it’s been legal for a while,” he said.
“They never thought they’d do this.”
The fledgling chocolatiers managed to get their production equipment from the U.S. just before the border shut in March.
It was moved into the bay of a northeast industrial strip mall, camouflaged by the former occupants’ renewable energy signage and barricaded by a boulder for security.
Inside, stirring arms churn vats of molten white and brown chocolate before it’s poured into round, polycarbonate moulds, cooled and shaken loose.
“It’s our first batch,” Pringle said minutes after a five-hour virtual commissioning session ended.
From melting to the end of the assembly line takes about 35 minutes for each treat, whose centre holds the THC prize.
In an adjacent room in the brightly lit complex, quality assurance manager Anu Bernier will test the finished product for its THC content and other qualities in a sleek, multi-layered machine the size of a bar fridge.
The products will also be X-rayed to ensure proper consistency.
“Every single pouch of chocolate gets examined,” said Bernier, clad in a surgical mask and lab coat.
The company has yet to acquire a federal sales licence but hopes to begin moving cannabis-infused product in the fall, pumping out 9,000 individual pieces of chocolate a day.