The Edible Conversation The highs and lows of Colorado’s new edible laws

In 2016, Colorado passed House Bill 1436, banning certain shapes of cannabis-infused edible products considered to be appealing to minors. The law’s goal was to prevent accidental dosing by children who might confuse a cannabis edible for a more traditional candy. That law formally went into effect on October 1 and now, Colorado consumers will no longer be able to buy infused candies in the shape of a person, animal or fruit.

“Data shows that the number of emergency room visits attributed to consumption of edibles by minors has doubled since adult-use sales began in 2014; poison-control calls have increased fivefold.”

While it’s too early to tell what the effects of the law will be, one incontrovertible fact is that accidental consumption of cannabis edibles by minors is a problem in Colorado. Data shows that the number of emergency room visits attributed to consumption of edibles by minors has doubled since adult-use sales began in 2014; poison-control calls have increased fivefold. While the overall number of incidents is still far lower than for pharmaceuticals or household cleaning products, this is nevertheless cause for concern.

In light of this trend, Colorado’s decision to ban shapes appealing to minors can only be seen as prudent. It does no harm to consumers, who will still have access to the products previously available to them (albeit in different shapes). And while manufacturers face certain costs in adjusting to the new law, they have largely adapted with minimal difficulty. Most Colorado manufacturers have been producing edibles in compliance with the new law for months.

With that said, it remains uncertain if this law will prevent accidental dosing by children.

As any parent can attest, small children are somewhat indiscriminate regarding what they swallow. While an infant would be expected, upon finding a cannabis-infused edible, to try to eat it, the same could be said of virtually any edible or non-edible product. This author has personally witnessed babies ingesting buttons, pocket change, scraps of paper, Lego pieces and various other items which do not meet the traditional definition of “food.”

In short, the odds of a small child encountering a less attractive candy, and thinking twice about eating it, seem small. There might be times when a child ignores a now-rectangular candy instead of reaching for it. This might be especially true for children who are beyond the age at which buttons are considered a delicacy. But geometric shapes (still permitted under the new law) will probably not deter most children in those situations: Children will eat whatever candy they may find. The real solution to preventing accidental consumption by children is a combination of child-resistant packaging and responsible parenting.

Colorado law has long required that cannabis edibles be dispensed in child-resistant packaging. Single-serving cannabis edibles must have child-resistant packaging around that serving, multiple-serving packages must be resealable, and bundled edible products must have child-resistant packaging around both the bundle and each individual serving inside. This requirement genuinely helps: Opening a child-resistant package can be an effort even for adults, and smaller children especially are unlikely to find their way inside.

But child-resistant packaging is no substitute for parenting. After the child-resistant seal is broken, a child has much easier access to the edibles inside. If a parent partially consumes an edible, for example, and leaves the remainder out, there is a chance that a child could accidentally eat that product, thinking it to be relatively safe, normal candy.

To protect children, all consumers of edibles—even those without children themselves—should take precautions. Keep all edibles in packaging until used. Never leave an uneaten or partially-eaten edible out, and store all edibles (including those still in the package) in an elevated location out of a child’s reach. If possible, keep all edibles locked and promptly dispose of any waste. Finally, for parents who consume edibles (and whose children are of an appropriate age), consider discussing the potential dangers of cannabis-infused edibles with your children—a short discussion now can help to avoid an emergency room visit or poison control call down the road.

This new law is well-intentioned, not harmful, and even potentially helpful. But when it comes to child safety, it is the tip of the iceberg: Children will not avoid candies simply because the state now requires that they be less cute. Parents and other consumers of cannabis edibles must exercise constant vigilance in keeping these products away from children.

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