Edibles had a rough ride in Colorado last year.
With deaths blamed on pot food, an increase in emergency-room visits and a very public freakout by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, edibles came under fire in Colorado in 2014. As a result, state lawmakers and the Marijuana Enforcement Division officials spent months reviewing Colorado's edibles policies -- at one point even suggesting an outright ban on pot food. Although that didn't come to fruition, cannabis edibles in Colorado have received a makeover for 2015.
Part of the push comes from parent and anti-cannabis groups like Project SAM, which continue to equate the marijuana industry with Big Tobacco and claim that edibles companies purposefully make their products attractive to children in order to hook new customers at an early age. Their arguments have been bolstered by Colorado Children's Hospital doctors, who've noted an increase in children being admitted to the emergency room after getting into their parents' stashes.
But most of the changes stem from the backlash after two well-publicized deaths for which state officials (and the media) were quick to put questionable blame on cannabis edibles. The first incident came in March 2014, when nineteen-year-old African exchange student Levy Thamba, in Denver from his Wyoming college, allegedly jumped to his death from a hotel balcony. The Denver coroner's office suggested that cannabis was to blame because the young man had reportedly eaten a single Sweet Grass Kitchen cookie with 65 milligrams of THC that friends had given to him. The cookie had a sticker noting that it was just over six portions, but the student ate the entire thing at once. The second high-profile case came in mid-April, when 44-year-old Richard Kirk shot and killed his wife, Kristine, while she was on the phone with 911. Reportedly, Kirk had eaten some pot food earlier that day when he began to insist that the world was ending. Even though the house was just two minutes from a police station, officers took thirteen minutes to get there.
While Denver investigated problems with 911 response times, state pot officials and lawmakers said they wanted to make it harder to get edibles so situations like these would never happen again -- even if pot was not actually the culprit in either situation. After the failed notion of banning edibles altogether, there was talk of forbidding any edibles that resembled child-friendly foods. Although that idea never went too far, the majority of edibles-makers seemed open to accepting more regulations in order to preserve the market. Few took the position that it should be the consumer's responsibility at some point, much as it is with alcohol -- even though Amendment 64 had been sold on the assumption that pot would be regulated like alcohol.
In October, after months of debate and hearings, the Marijuana Enforcement Division hammered out a new system that went into effect on February 1. The new regulations work like this:
If the edible is a single serving, it can't have more than 10 mg of active THC. This stipulation goes for everything from candies to baked goods -- so no more 100 mg cookies or candies, like the 100 mg Cheeba Chews.
Companies can bundle together single-serving edibles in a package that adds up to 100 mg of THC total, but each serving must be put in child-resistant, single-serving blister packs, boxes or cellophane.
Multiple-serving edibles that have more than 10 mg of active THC and fewer than 100 mg of THC must have that clearly marked on both the package and on the edible, so that it can easily be separated into multiple dosages. Infused drinks can still have more than 10 mg of active THC, but the number of servings must be marked on the side of the bottle -- or it must contain an actual measuring device. Edibles with multiple servings also must have an extra warning label, with instructions on how the food or drink is meant to be consumed. And for all companies making edibles, there's a fifteen-point checklist regarding labels that they must follow before products can even hit the shelves.
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Although a few edibles companies may be unaffected by these new policies, most are going to have to make a lot of changes in terms of manufacturing and production. Dixie Elixirs had a publicized campaign offering its large-dose, single-serving items at a discount through much of January, and dispensaries offered potent pot foods for cheap as well. Though Dixie spent much of last year trying to get ahead of the regulatory curve with its line of 5 mg and 10 mg edibles meant to court the occasional user (and likely pacify state officials), company founder Tripp Keber says the dosing and packaging changes will still cost upwards of $350,000 to implement company-wide.
No doubt some of that will be passed on to consumers. And while the new rules don't affect medical cannabis edibles at all, it wouldn't be surprising to see the changes bleed over in order to keep production costs down.
The producers are not the only ones making changes geared to improving edibles safety. Last year the Marijuana Policy Project unrolled its "Consume Responsibly" campaign, which highlights the need for parents to be more responsible for what they bring into their homes. Billboards showing a child's eyes peering at a glass of wine and a cookie with the warning "Some juices and cookies are not meant for kids -- keep 'adult snacks' locked up and out of reach" draw parallels between parents keeping alcohol away from kids and doing the same with pot food.
MPP spokesman Mason Tvert says that while the new packaging regulations aren't necessarily a bad thing, what's really necessary is a cultural shift. "We need to have reasonable regulations that maximize safety surrounding these products," he explains. "But we also need to be educating the public about its role in this issue."