Weed Edibles: From Poison Control Calls to New Edibles Packaging Policies

Weed edibles packaging example, a six-piece white chocolate bar.
Image: Facebook

Colorado, Washington and other states with legal marijuana reconsider weed edibles packaging and labeling requirements in light of increases in emergency room visits and poison control calls for unintentional pediatric ingestion.

In an effort to keep cannabis-infused edibles away from children, states where marijuana edibles are legal have developed strict regulations for labeling, packaging and manufacturing baked goods, candies, beverages and other foods.

This is welcome news for poison control centers.

Children who ingest weed edibles and pot products face lethargy, dizziness and, worst-case, could slip into a coma, Michelle Preston of the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island said in a recent interview about a spike in the number of cases of children ingesting marijuana.

So far this year, the Boston-based center has dealt with 20 cases in which children ate pot products, compared to 52 cases in all of 2018. This year’s number so far has already doubled the 10 similar cases it fielded in 2015, according to the TV segment.

Study of Colorado’s Weed Edibles Labeling & ER Visits

According to a 2016 study of unintentional pediatric exposures published by the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, Colorado’s laws on labeling and child-resistant packaging were unable to prevent a spike in emergency-room visits and calls to poison control for children under 9 who had accidentally consumed marijuana.

The study found that poison control cases increased five-fold, and that emergency-room visits to Children’s Hospital Colorado in 2014 and 2015 doubled compared to years prior to the opening of recreational marijuana dispensaries.

“We were expecting an increase,” Dr. Sam Wang, the study’s lead author, said in a Denver Post article. “As far as the poison control center, we were a little surprised.”

Washington Studies Food Attraction Qualities 

A 2016 University of Washington School of Law’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project report identified factors that make food attractive to children.

Commissioned by the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board, the report looked at research on what physical elements of food appeal to children and the role that marketing and branding play.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Color is a key factor in children’s food choices, with red, orange, yellow and green foods preferred
  • Food in novel shapes such as stars or animals is more appealing to children than food cut into slices or sticks
  • Children like foods that smell sweet, fruity or like candy
  • Taste, rather than smell, is a more useful deterrent for children
  • Odor alone is unlikely to deter children
  • Cartoon and other promotional characters powerfully influence children’s food preferences
Washington Creates New Weed Edibles Packaging & Labeling Policy

Washington state’s policy toward edibles has been contradictory, according to a recent blog post by Sam Mendez, strategic legal counsel at Cultiva Law, a law firm based in Washington and Oregon that serves cannabis-related businesses.

In October of 2018, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) banned all cannabis-infused candy, both hard and soft, regardless of shape and color, Mendez wrote.

A few weeks later, after engagement from the state’s three major trade groups, the WSLCB reversed its candy ban and instead focused on disallowing “brightly colored products” and products “similar to commercially available products intended for or that target youth or children,” according to Mendez’s post.

Finally, in December, WSLCB issued BIP 10-2018, which focused on colors of products and packaging. This is the policy statement:

The following requirements apply to all marijuana infused edible products and their packaging and labeling:

  • Only colors and shapes from an approved list on the WSLCB website can be used.
  • A white or cream background with brown or black lettering and up to three accent colors from the approved color list will be provided on the WSLCB website. A percentage or gradient of an approved color counts as one color.
  • A grey or black background with brown or white lettering and up to three accent colors from the approved color list will be provided on the WSLCB website. A percentage or gradient of an approved color counts as one color.
  • A tan or brown background black or white lettering and up to three accent colors from the approved color list provided on the WSLCB website. A percentage or gradient of an approved color counts as one color.
  • A full color photo or photo in the chosen accent color of the product is allowed.
  • Packaging with a clear window is permitted.
  • Company logos are permitted. Examples of allowable logo displays are available on the WSLCB website.

In an interview with EfficientGov, Mendez said that the bill has been voted on by both houses and has to be signed by the governor.

“I think we should have a signature by the end of the month then it will be referred to state department of agriculture,” he said.

But Mendez said the bill is confusing to businesses and licensees regarding the enforcement of colors, for example, and he expects there will be uneven enforcement on this policy.

No ‘Candy’ in Colorado

On October 1, 2016, Colorado implemented new rules regarding the sale of retail and medical marijuana, including edibles, in order to make marijuana packaging safer for adults and less appealing to children.

They specify that every single standardized serving (a serving consists of 10 mg of THC) of an edible retail marijuana product must be individually marked, stamped or imprinted with the new, universal THC symbol.

Packaging must include the following statement directly below the symbol: “Contains Marijuana. Keep out of the reach of children.”

Additionally, the words “candy” or “candies” cannot appear on marijuana or marijuana packaging, unless part of the marijuana establishment’s name.

Bland in Canada

Proposed Canadian edible regulations also say products must not be appealing to youth and the packages can’t advertise dessert or confectionery flavors. Edibles must also not “encourage over-consumption” and be shelf-stable, so no refrigeration, according to a recent article in Global News.

That said, Canadian critics warn that the proposed edible pot regulations would result is tasteless products and wasteful packaging, shutting out medical patients and fueling a continued black market, according to the story.

Cannabis Markets Respond 

Sales of cannabis edibles, including beverages, candies and other foods are expected to reach $4.1 billion in 2022, in the U.S. and Canada, according to research from ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics. That’s up from $1.7 billion in 2017.

The packaging industry has responded by designing creative-looking child-resistant packages, such as LeafLocker’s SlideboxCR, a smart looking cardboard box with a sliding drawer that’s released when a round tab is pushed on the side. Watch a video to see how it works:


Kush supply Co. also sells inexpensive, colorful pop-top bottles made of plastic that are child-resistant and come in different sizes.

Last year Quartzy author Lisa Selin Davis wrote about how the pot industry is reinventing child-resistant packaging.

The advent of cannabis, and more specifically the requirements for cannabis, has really changed the world of child-resistant packaging in dramatic ways,” said Robert Lerman, owner of Ebottles.com.

Review our previous coverage of cannabis edibles packaging:

What’s the Deal with Recreational Marijuana Edibles Labeling?

 

About the author

Larry Claflin, Jr.

Larry Claflin, Jr.

Columnist Larry Claflin, Jr., is a freelance writer based in New England and co-founder and former executive director of the non-profit Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. He is fascinated with the mechanics of city government and cultural development in cities.