Summit County campaign creating sticker for edible marijuana products | SummitDaily.com

Summit County campaign creating sticker for edible marijuana products

Alli Langley
alangley@summitdaily.com

Those who lived through the 1970s might remember a green sticker known as Mr. Yuk.

Created by The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, the sticker's simple face had squinty eyes and a tongue sticking out. Parents placed the sticker on toxic household chemicals they didn't want children to touch, and if someone did ingest a harmful chemical, the sticker also gave the national poison control phone number.

Now Summit County leaders want to partner with local dispensaries to add a similar symbol on the packaging of edible marijuana products.

Laurie Blackwell said the thought of a child finding THC treats and eating more than is recommended for several adults keeps her up at night.

"I'm not sleeping. I am terrified," said Blackwell, who runs the county's Healthy Futures Initiative.

Part of the county's Health and Human Services Department, the initiative is a five-year program funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Blackwell said the initiative's goal is to educate and encourage youth and the community as a whole to make positive choices that lead to healthy substance-free lifestyles.

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A few months ago, Blackwell and a couple of her coworkers sat down with Breckenridge Police Chief Shannon Haynes and talked about how they didn't think the state's "don't be a lab rat" campaign, created in response to the legalization of recreational marijuana, resonated with Summit County kids, teens and young adults.

The group wanted to steer youth away from marijuana in a positive way, Blackwell said, and "not from a negative, scare tactic kind of approach."

REDUCING USE IN YOUTH

Since September, she and Haynes have been working on a five-year countywide multimedia campaign, seeking funding and support from local government officials, law enforcement agencies, the school district and other community organizations.

"Our feeling is there's a super misconception" about how many people are consuming marijuana locally and the harm the plant can have on adolescent brains, Blackwell said. "The perception of harm is very low. We anticipate that's going to mean that kids are going to give it a try."

Before Halloween, the Breckenridge Police Department circulated a flier asking parents to check their children's candy for marijuana products made to look almost identical to popular chocolate bars and treats sold by candy giants like Hershey's.

Though manufacturers have been sued and forced to stop or drastically change their packaging, Blackwell said those products may still be available. Plus, she said, edible forms of marijuana, like cookies, lollipops and sodas, often look enticing to young children who may not know better.

Some studies have highlighted risks of adolescents consuming marijuana, which one Summit County mom recently pointed out is stronger than it was a generation ago.

"For legal users that may be great news, and for some medical users it could be a godsend. For parents concerned about brain development, the implications are more disquieting," Cindy Bargell wrote in a Nov. 18 letter to the editor.

Blackwell said the marijuana campaign would have a couple parts.

CHANGING THE MESSAGE

The first part of the campaign would be encouraging locals and visitors of all ages to think of Summit County first and marijuana second.

"It's getting a little annoying for a lot of people to get off a plane and get the same reaction every single time they go out of state," Blackwell said.

Local middle school kids have been asked by vacationers on a ski lift where to find the best weed, she said. "That is not OK."

The campaign's messages will be directed toward young children, adolescents, teens, young adults and parents, and shaped for those target audiences. For example, she said, second- and fourth-graders could hear messages of empowerment while high schoolers might be asked what makes them unique and great.

Healthy Future Initiative already does community-wide substance abuse trainings and in-school presentations, but Haynes said those efforts aren't enough.

"To hit as many of those kids as you can you need to keep up with the education," she said. "I don't think we can ever stop, and we can't be limited to the things we're already doing."

The campaign will push its messages through radio, TV and newspaper ads as well as on Summit Stage buses and in the Dillon movie theater.

This spring, Blackwell plans to collect community survey results on marijuana use and perceptions as a baseline. In the campaign's third year, she will collect more surveys to see if anything should be adjusted, and a final survey in the fifth year will measure the campaign's effectiveness.

DESIGNING THE STICKERS

The second focus of the campaign is on the edibles sticker, which will be smaller than a quarter with a symbol on it that doesn't frighten or attract children but makes them not want to touch, eat or play with the product.

"My hope, my sincere hope, is that adults buy these and they have the portion they're supposed to and they lock them up, but we can't guarantee that," Blackwell said. The sticker would also remind adults to put away their marijuana treats, she added.

She has tested some designs, including a dragon and some alien figures, and plans to finalize the symbol in January after more testing in local preschools and elementary schools.

The symbol will also help non-English speakers and recent Colorado transplants who work in local hotels, condos and lodging properties, Haynes said. "It's not going to be perfect, but it is one step in prevention that we don't have right now."

A Breckenridge officer is already educating housekeeping staff to look for marijuana symbols like pot leaves and the letters THC, but Haynes said she was concerned after a handful of adults were seen by medical professionals after ingesting something they found left by vacationers.

The sticker would not be mandatory and would need community-wide investment to be successful as well as support from local dispensaries.

"We're not trying to in any way put a stigma on the product," Blackwell said.

Before recreational marijuana sale became legal in January, Haynes said, police met with store owners and talked about how to give customers verbal and written messages about responsible use. "They've been on board since the very beginning."

POT SHOPS REACT

Two local dispensaries reached for comment Sunday said they supported the sticker idea.

"We are all about keeping it out of the hands of the kids," said Colby Hockersmith, general manager of High Country Healing in Silverthorne. "A universal symbol would be a good idea."

At Breckenridge Cannabis Club, compliance manager Richela Neet said her store would be happy to put on a sticker as long as it doesn't cover up the language required by the state.

Stores selling medical and recreational marijuana must follow laws that require products have the Colorado Division of Marijuana Enforcement seal, nutrition information and labels that warn of potential health risks and encourage consumers to keep the products away from minors.

The products also must leave the shops in opaque, certified child-resistant packaging, which Neet said is designed to take a child under 5 at least five minutes to open.

"In the end, marijuana companies are doing everything that we can," she said. "It gets back to the household and being responsible and putting your belongings away."

In February, new laws will shift packaging compliance to the wholesale edibles producer, and edibles will be required to be divided into serving-size portions and individually wrapped.

"You won't get a 100-milligram bar ever again," Neet said.

A sign near the exit at Breckenridge Cannabis Club warns customers that they could get in trouble for walking outside with unpackaged products, she said.

Hockersmith said his store's employees always talk about responsible consumption with people buying edibles. "We don't care how much you've ever smoked in your life, this is what the state recommends."

High Country Healing also includes a card with written instructions like "be patient and have non-medicated snacks handy." It tells consumers to breathe deeply and try lying down in a dark, quiet room with a glass of water if they've eaten too much. No one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, he said, and those who seek medical attention will simply be monitored and given fluids.

His staff also tells customers to keep their products in the packaging at home, even to people who shrug off the suggestion because they don't have children or pets. If young children can't see the treats, he said, they shouldn't be a problem.

"Unless the kid can read the fact that it says gummy bears, they're going to overlook that and just think that it's mommy's or daddy's medicines," he said.

Almost monthly, the state puts out new marijuana regulations, and Hockersmith said, "they don't give you any warning of when they're changing the laws. They just change them."

He understands though, he said. "It's an all-new industry, so it's all still just trial and error."

And that's why Blackwell and Haynes say Summit should adopt the stickers and not wait for the state to figure out edibles labeling.

LOCAL YOUTH SUBSTANCE USE

A 2011 survey found Summit County substance use rates among middle and high school students slightly higher than state averages.

At Summit High School, 70 percent of students reported drinking alcohol at least once, nearly 50 percent had tried marijuana and more than one quarter had used prescription pills without a prescription.

Among Summit Middle School students, one quarter reported drinking alcohol at least once, more than 10 percent had used inhalants and just under 10 percent had tried marijuana or prescription pills.

One quarter of Summit High School seniors said they drove after drinking in the past 30 days, and one-third drove after using marijuana. One-third of high school students rode in a car with someone who had been drinking, and 45 percent rode in a car with someone who had been smoking marijuana.

Source: 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (sponsored by the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Department of Human Services-Office of Behavioral Health and published in the 2012 Summit County Health Assessment)

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