Marijuana Working Group Asks: Should All Pot Edibles Be Colored Orange?

Should recreational cannabis edibles manufacturers be required to ensure that their products are distinguishable from similar non-medicated products even outside the original packaging materials? That's the tricky question that was discussed on Thursday, September 11, when a working group met to discuss implementation of the Smart Colorado-sponsored House Bill 14-1366.

See also: DIA Banning Sales of Marijuana-Themed Socks and Flip-Flops, Entrepreneur Says

The guiding principals cited for the rule -- which were mentioned again during the hearing, and which could become a sticking point for the proposed rule -- declare that rule implementation must be systematic, transparent, defensible and operable. Most of the debate centered around that last item.

Gina Carbone of Smart Colorado and other members of the working group stressed that the purpose of this rule is to guarantee that cannabis-infused edibles are easily recognizable. She stated that some parents of children in Colorado have concerns that their children are consuming marijuana without parental knowledge or consent and that this is possible because of under-the-radar methods of consumption, such as vaping or edibles.

To that end, the working group discussed several methods of indicating that a product contains marijuana: a marking or stamp of some sort; a specific shape; a specific color; or more robust labeling with an easily recognizable symbol.

Although working-group members agreed that labeling product packaging with an easily identifiable symbol was an operable change that the industry could embrace, there was no such consensus about how the products themselves should be marked -- if they should at all. More than one cannabis industry professional noted that although there are symbol and informational requirements for both poison and alcohol, poisonous and alcoholic products are not always identifiable outside of the package -- and there's no lethal dose of cannabis, unlike either poison or alcohol.

Furthermore, deciding on a single indicator that would work across product types will no doubt turn into an exhausting discussion. While the working group talked about using a specific color (such as orange, which was suggested due to its "biohazard" connotations), shape, stamp or odor to designate cannabis-infused products, it quickly became clear that there wasn't an easy one-size-fits-all solution to this issue.

Although it might seem easy on the surface to designate orange as a color that indicates cannabis infusion, for example, the operational implementation isn't nearly so simple. That solution could work for drinks or even baked goods, but when a working-group member raised the issue of whether color would work equally well for bulk infused goods, such as granola, the Smart representative at the table suggested that the granola-makers could add carrots to the recipe. Similarly, working-group cannabis industry members who emphasized their commitment to natural ingredients were told that it would probably be easy to find natural food dyes that would align both with the state guideline and the quality of their food product.

Another possible solution -- an obvious stamp of some sort that could be used to impress an image on hard candies and other products -- was held up as a questionable example by the baked-goods representatives in the working group, who pointed out that stamping a brownie with an image isn't always feasible. The suggested solution to this problem was adding fondant to all baked goods; however, the Smart Colorado representative who suggested this solution noted she isn't a baker, and fondant frosting is often easier to remove from a baked good than buttercream frosting.

A one-size-fits-all solution that will work across product types is elusive. Although some working group members suggested adopting more than one indicator of cannabis infusion, other group members stated that this would be likelier to further muddy the waters surrounding edibles consumption than to act as a clarifying agent, which is the entire purpose of the rule.

Again and again, the working group came back to packaging changes as the most reasonable (and operable) indicator of cannabis infusion. It's clear that sponsor Smart Colorado would like to see this bill result in cannabis products that are identifiable both inside and outside of the package, but the prohibitive costs of some methods of achieving this standard -- and the overall question of whether a single identifier is even feasible -- will make that an onerous task for all involved.

Working group members must submit their recommendations by September 30; the next meeting surrounding HB 14-366 will be in mid-October.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amber Taufen has been writing about people, places and things in Denver since 2005. She works as an editor, writer, and production and process guru out of her home office in the foothills.
Contact: Amber Taufen