Edible pot ban among regulators’ options

Will Grandbois
Marijuana edibles in child-resistant packaging, a new Colorado requirement for all cannabis-infused products sold through dispensaries.
Will Grandbois / Special to the Daily |

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggested that marijuana regulators consider a ban on most forms of edible marijuana, which they say are “naturally attractive to children.”

The health department later clarified that its recommendation was just one of several sent to regulators as they work to draw up rules for identifiable markers or colors for edible marijuana products so they won’t be confused with regular foods. It asserts that edibles like brownies, cookies and certain candies violate the legal requirement to “prevent the marketing of marijuana products to children,” effectively limiting acceptable pot-infused food to lozenges and some liquids.

Dan Sullivan, co-owner of the The Green Joint dispensary in Glenwood Springs, said that the therapeutic value of edibles is too significant to justify banning them altogether. He expressed concern that even a ban only on recreational sales would discourage manufacturers from making such products for medical customers.

“At the end of the day, we’re relying on consumers to do the right thing,” he said. “You don’t leave your Valium on the kitchen table for your 2-year-old to take. You shouldn’t do the same thing with a cannabis-infused cookie.”

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario feels otherwise.

“They’re the ones providing the product, and it’s their liability,” he said.

Vallario called the health department’s recommendation “a great idea.”

“They should have thought about it before they legalized marijuana,” he asserted. “Now we’re having to backtrack.”

The final decision will be made by the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, which oversees retail marijuana sales. Lawmakers have already ordered regulators to require pot-infused food and drink to have a distinct look when they are out of the packaging. The order came after concerns about the proliferation of pot-infused treats that many worry could be accidentally eaten by children.

In June, a 7-year-old Basalt girl accidentally ingested marijuana infused candy her mother brought home from an Aspen hotel that had a policy that food and beverages left behind in rooms could be taken home by the cleaning staff. The girl was taken to Valley View Hospital for treatment and later released.

In Denver, the deaths of Levy Thamba and Kristine Kirk received widespread attention due to association with edible marijuana. Thamba, 19, jumped to his death from a hotel balcony in March after eating marijuana-infused cookies. Kirk, 44, told dispatch that her husband had ingested cannabis before she was shot dead in April.

Without statewide data, it is difficult to establish whether these incidents represent a trend or are part of the normal range of accidents and violent crime.

One Denver area hospital has reported nine cases of children being admitted after accidentally eating pot. It is not clear whether those kids ate commercially packaged products or homemade items such as marijuana brownies. Grand River Hospital’s emergency room in Rifle has seen no such increase, according to Annick Pruett, director of Community Relations.

That doesn’t mean there’s no reason for concern, Pruett said.

“I think really the huge danger is to kids who accidentally ingest it,” she said. “It’s a new thing, and I think everyone just needs more education on it.”

Sullivan, of the The Green Joint, agrees.

“Education is the key, in addition to product packaging and thoughtful regulations,” said Sullivan. “We’ve come a long way as an industry, and I think we’ll continue to fine tune things.”

He acknowledged that edibles pose challenges. In addition to the look-alike factor, the effects are more delayed than other methods of ingesting marijuana. That can cause unfamiliar consumers to take too much — as famously happened to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd on a trip to Denver earlier this year.

Retail products are currently restricted to 100 mg of THC per package, which amounts to 10 servings at the recommended dose. Furthermore, all cannabis products leave the dispensary in a childproof container. What happens after that, Sullivan said, is up to the buyer.

A health department spokesman did not immediately comment on the agency’s proposal, which comes as authorities warn parents about look-alike pot-infused candies at Halloween.

Denver police released a video earlier this month about the danger of possible mix-ups.

“Some marijuana edibles can be literally identical to their name-brand counterparts,” department warned in a statement, urging parents to toss candies they don’t recognize.

This story includes material from the Associated Press.

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