Summit County marijuana shops react to proposed limits on edibles
Though recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado almost two years ago, the debate rages on about how to distinguish pot-infused foods like brownies and candies from their cannabis-free counterparts.
Marijuana supporters and opponents alike agree they don’t want kids or unsuspecting adults to consume the sweet treats.
In that vein, authorities with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment proposed a ban on many forms of edible marijuana Monday, Oct. 21, but then backed off the suggestion after public outcry.
“The recommendation from CDPHE is just that, a recommendation to a working group as part of the deliberative process. We fully expect it will be debated and edited through open, frequent, frank and respectful communication between stakeholders of all stripes at all levels,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director, in a written statement Monday.
The recommendation didn’t reflect the views of Gov. John Hickenlooper or account for black market dynamics or Amendment 64, which says retail pot is legal in all forms. The proposal simply stemmed from concerns about underage marijuana ingestion, officials said.
“Edibles pose a definite risk to children, and that’s why we recommended limiting marijuana-infused products to tinctures and lozenges,” Wolk said.
The health department’s recommendation was one of about a dozen proposals considered Monday by a group of marijuana industry, law enforcement and health officials.
Most proposals suggested the state mandate clearer labels for edibles or require producers to make edibles in a specific shape or dyed a certain color. Suggestions were met with questions about effectiveness, ability to enforce and legal issues like requiring companies to add unwanted ingredients to their products.
The disagreement over more-nuanced regulations pushed the health department to propose a ban on the sale of all edibles except hard candies and some infused liquids.
After that didn’t go over well, the state’s marijuana regulators moved away from banning products in favor of efforts to require edibles to have a distinct look when out of packaging.
The Department of Revenue regulates marijuana sales and its working group on proposed regulations will meet again Nov. 7. Any final proposals will be presented in a report to the legislature next year, for the Department of Revenue to adopt by 2016.
The discussion coincides with a slow but steady shift away from traditional smoking as a method of marijuana consumption toward vaporizers, edibles, concentrates, lotions and salves.
CONCERNS ABOUT KIDS
Edible pot shouldn’t be allowed if it can’t be identified out of its packaging, says the advocacy group Smart Colorado.
The group’s reasoning is that THC portions don’t match up with typical serving sizes of chocolate bars and cookies, and some marijuana products look just like familiar treats.
On Tuesday, Breckenridge police released a flier that warned parents to throw out any candy they don’t recognize this Halloween as doctors have said consuming large doses of THC could cause small children to stop breathing.
The flier showed photos of marijuana products that mimic well known brands: Mr. Dankbar (Mr. Goodbar), Ganja Joy (Almond Joy), Hasheath (Heath), Buddafinger (Butterfinger).
Some manufacturers, like the Colorado company Tincture Belle, have been forced to recall and destroy their lookalike edibles and refrain from using certain colors in packaging after being sued for infringement by large corporations like Hershey’s Co.
Overconsumption of marijuana through edibles is an issue for people of any age, kids or adults, said Dawn Mlatecek, owner of the Frisco dispensary Herbal Bliss, where edibles make up 30 to 40 percent of sales. She can’t believe lookalike packaging went as far as it did.
“There are some people in the industry who need to realize that although that’s funny and it’s cool, there is a downside to that,” she said. “We’re seeing it right now.”
Manufacturers could shape treats like pot leaves or green crosses, she said, but clearly marking edibles would bring its own problems with teens seeking out marijuana products.
“Now they’re going to know exactly what they’re looking for,” she said. “Either the kids are going to get it from us or they’re going to get it from somewhere else.”
She said one of her medical marijuana customers was able to keep the products away from her teenage kids, who didn’t like nuts, by ordering brownies with nuts in them and storing them in the freezer.
PACKAGING AND RESPONSIBILITY
The marijuana industry believes banning edibles would lead to more marijuana treats produced at home, which would mean people wouldn’t know the exact THC content of their creations unlike if they bought tested products from licensed and regulated businesses.
The Growing Kitchen, based in Boulder, sells edibles to 135 dispensaries around Colorado, including the Breckenridge Cannabis Club.
Sales manager Holden Sproul said kids and adults have probably been eating too much marijuana through edibles for decades, but because marijuana was illegal people were too scared to go to hospitals or call poison control.
While he didn’t agree with the proposed ban, he said companies shouldn’t be making candies like gummy worms into edibles.
“We should take the most caution ever in our state,” he said. “We have a model that could potentially work for the rest of the country.”
He said kids should be deterred from edibles with the childproof packaging already required, which often means products leave stores in opaque bags that zip and lock.
The locking mechanism, however, might be something younger kids want to play with and older kids see as a simple obstacle to the goodies inside.
That’s where the personal responsibility factor comes in, Mlatecek said.
“If I had kids, I wouldn’t leave my childproof packaging with anything in it period, any edible, anywhere within the child’s reach,” she said, adding that the solution seems simple. “I have dogs, and I can tell you I don’t leave steak on my counter.”
Regulations on edibles are moving more toward opaque packaging, which Mlatecek said can make products hard to sell.
“Would you buy a shirt without looking at it?” she said.
At the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, co-owner Caitlin McGuire said she would support most labeling and packaging requirements but regulating product appearances once they’re out of packaging seems difficult.
“If it’s a rule that can’t be enforced it doesn’t do anybody any good, including the public,” she said.
Those who eat edibles often choose that method of consumption because they don’t want to smoke or feel more comfortable carrying around food products.
People who use marijuana for medicinal reasons also say edibles are more effective treatment.
“I think it would be really unfortunate if edibles were cut out of the picture,” Sproul said, especially for people who use them for to treat pain, nervous system disorders, sleeping problems and conditions like autism.
People undergoing chemotherapy find edibles are easier for their body to handle, and their anti-nausea effects last longer than with smoking, Mlatecek said.
One customer at Herbal Bliss on Tuesday afternoon said he prefers edibles over smoking marijuana for treating lingering pain from a back injury. His job involves standing for eight hours, he said, and because his marijuana tolerance is high, a small amount of an edible doesn’t affect him mentally.
“I take a little nibble, and my body feels good and my back doesn’t hurt,” said the man who asked not to be named because of job concerns. “I’m able to function way better.”
He said he was glad the proposed ban is creating more discussion about edibles though because he’s seen people ingest more than he thought they should.
People should educate themselves about how edibles work, he said. “The stupid factor ruins it for everyone.”
Sproul recommended first-timers start figuring out their edibles tolerance with a 5 milligram hard candy or a 1 milligram tincture spray. Because both products are absorbed sublingually, people feel their effects faster than products absorbed up to an hour later through the digestive system, and the small doses are unlikely to cause psychoactive effects.
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