A Calgary-based group of entrepreneurs is laying its groundwork for the marijuana edibles market with the help of an executive chef with a medical permit.

They’re selling handcrafted baking mixes for marijuana-infused brownies and squares online. For now, reTreat’s customers have to supply their own cannabis oil if they want a pain-relieving or a psychoactive experience.

The plan is to cultivate a loyal fan base as Ottawa prepares to legalize recreational marijuana in July. reTreat hopes to get its products into dispensaries so they can be sold next to marijuana.

The legal sale of pre-prepared marijuana goodies is not expected to be approved until 2019.

Red Seal Chef John MacNeil’s medical permit under Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations means he doesn’t have to wait for legislation to pass in order to start exploring the culinary nuances of marijuana. Armed with a background in gastronomy, he’s already crafting flavourful recipes for the highly anticipated edibles markets.

“It’s a brand new ingredient, and that’s what a chef always looks for, something special to use,” he told CTV Calgary on Wednesday. “There are different compounds that are found inside that can be compared to dark-roasted cocoa. This is where the recipes start to turn into something special.”

Health Canada has said edibles are a safer way to consume cannabis versus smoking. The legal market is expected to be significant in size.

Sylvain Charlebois, dean of management at Dalhousie University and a co-author of a recent study on cannabis-infused foods and Canadian consumers, expects popping a pot snack will become increasingly mainstream as people become more knowledgeable. He also predicts edible marijuana’s appeal will resonate with health-conscious consumers who may not wish to smoke.

“I expect cannabis to enable super-foods in the future to help consumers lead healthier lives,” Charlebois said.

According to his research, just under half (45.8 per cent) of respondents surveyed, said they are willing to try a cannabis-infused food product, once they are legalized.

Charlebois’ findings bear more good news for reTreat. The largest cohort (46.1 per cent) of those who said they would try edible pot also said they would be most likely to reach for a bakery product, like a brownie or muffin.

MacNeil, who is also the executive chef at Calgary’s The Beltliner restaurant, is looking beyond selling pot brownies. He expects marijuana will emerge as a choice ingredient in professional kitchens as more Canadians embrace its gourmet properties, and the stoner stigma falls by the wayside.

Brendan Bankowski, The Beltliner’s owner, agrees. He’s noticed the trend emerging south of the border and sees no reason why it won’t take hold once Canada lifts its legal hurdles.

“It’s being done in other parts of the world, through Colorado and through Washington. They have cannabis-based dinners, and you can pair it with certain foods and wines and make a whole thing out of it,” he said. “I think as a nation we’re embracing it and Calgary’s a perfect spot to get this thing rolling.”

With a report from CTV Calgary’s Alesia Fieldberg