By Elise McDonough
Published by High Times in June 2016
The classic clarion call of the drug warrior, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!” has become trite enough to morph into pop culture satire. But as the controversy around cannabis-infused gummies and candies continues to rage in Colorado, it’s worth asking whether these products truly pose a legitimate danger to public safety, or just a troubling case of “bad optics” for the newly emerging cannabis industry. Everyone seems to agree that no one should be marketing cannabis products to children, but is pot in candy form inherently intended to attract kids?
Colorado State Representative Dan Pabon seems to think so, and has introduced House Bill 1436, a measure that would prohibit cannabis-infused gummies shaped like animals, humans or fruit. “I have a 3-year-old son who likes gummy bears,” Pabon said in conversation with a reporter from the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Narrowly focused on curtailing the production of THC-infused foods that look exactly like regular mainstream products, HB 1436 would ban gummy bears and worms, and “Sour Diesel Patch Kids”—if such a thing existed—but other gummy shapes like weed leafs, stars and moons would still be acceptable. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper addressed the issue in January, saying “Candy cigarettes desensitized kids to the dangers of tobacco. Today, pot-infused gummy bears send the wrong message to our kids about marijuana.”
After several high-profile incidents involving over-consumption of cannabis-infused foods, the Colorado legislature moved decisively to restrict the edibles industry with HB 1366 and HB 1361, which mandated incremental doses of 10 milligrams of THC, pharmaceutical-grade, child-resistant packaging and a universal THC warning symbol to be imprinted on products and packaging. HB 1436 further limits the scope of what types of products the industry can manufacture, but it’s unlikely that the bill will have any impact on solving the problem of accidental ingestion. Toddlers will put anything in their mouths, whether it’s a battery, Tide detergent pod, or a gummy, regardless of its shape. Jacob Sullum, writing for Reason, makes the cogent observation that “This bill is more about eliminating products that make legislators uncomfortable than it is about preventing accidental ingestion.”
While no one wants little kids to eat pot candy and get sick, the prevalence of these unfortunate incidents is relatively low, and no children have suffered permanent damage as a result. Cannabis-infused gummy bears, however, are an effective scare tactic that prohibitionists have used as ammunition in their crusade to block medical marijuana laws in other states.
“This is nothing more than a state-sanctioned drug cartel and a front for the sale of edibles such as marijuana infused gummy bears, chocolate bars and flavored soda. These are not “compassionate” products being sold to terminally ill patients. These are products designed to attract and hook our youth on an addictive drug for the rest of their lives just to line the pockets of greedy venture capitalists,” writes a group of prosecutors in Missouri, attempting to justify their reasons why sick people in their state should be denied access to a potentially life-saving herbal medicine.
Earlier this month, a federal draft paper exploring the risks and rewards of cannabis legalization in Canada concluded that “Bite-sized marijuana goodies such as candies and cookies pose ‘significant risks’ to children,” prompting a spate of headlines designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents.
The THC Gummy Bear has become vilified; a symbol of all that’s wrong with cannabis legalization, an easy target for prohibitionists who have always appealed to parents in their fervor for a continuation of failed Drug War policies.
Many pot activists see these reactionary regulations as the result of politically motivated hysteria fomented by those who would like to overturn Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized cannabis for adult use in 2012.
“The industry is being crushed by continuous regulations,” explains Jaime Lewis, the proprietor of Mountain Medicine and chairperson of the Cannabis Business Alliance, board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association, and chairperson of their Infused Products Council. Jaime has been agitating for the interests of the THC-infused foods industry even prior to full legalization, having begun her edibles company way back in 2009.
“We keep getting smacked in the face with additional regulations, before we actually see if the regulations that have already been put into place are going to work,” Jaime says, referencing the earlier emergency rules passed in August of 2014. “They’re not allowing us time to go forward with previous legislation that is in fact solving problems… In October 2016, the marking and stamping of products with the THC symbol will eliminate the confusion about what has cannabis in it and what doesn’t.”
But knowing cannabis is in a product still won’t stop accidental ingestion by toddlers. Keeping cannabis-infused foods in a locked cabinet and encouraging parental responsibility and oversight is the only solution. Lewis says that cannabis candy isn’t inherently aimed at children, noting that how the industry can advertise has been tightly regulated. “Children are not the ones shopping at [marijuana] stores,” Jaime says, “We can’t advertise in anything that is geared towards a demographic under 21.”
Claude Card, the founder of Sweet Stone Candy, which specializes in giant THC-infused gummy bears, says that while cannabis candy isn’t intended to appeal to children but instead to “the adult child in all of us,” the company will use new molds to create acceptable candy shapes, including gemstones which are already in stock.
“Education is the most effective form of prevention,” Claude writes, “The more they try to regulate small things like shape, potency and plant count, the less freedom we have with a plant that should never have been illegal to begin with. An underground market is better than an over-regulated one!”
Of course, none of these new regulations do anything to address homemade cannabis edibles, and there’s no system in place to track whether the edibles involved in accidental ingestion cases originated from a black market producer or a licensed entity. Nothing prevents an individual from creating THC gummy bears at home, even though black market products are notorious for imprecise doses, and come with no child-resistant packaging or warning labels.
If you’re a big fan of reliably dosed THC gummy bears produced in a commercial kitchen, however, you should stock up now. They’ll be extinct soon, at least in Colorado, and it’s up to activists to decide whether these types of controversial products are worth defending.