Russell Hebets June 15, 2016

Starting July 1st, Colorado will officially ban marijuana gummy bears. In fact, any infused candy in the shape of an animal, fruit or character will be banned. House Bill 16-1436 was signed by the governor and its intention is to prevent the candies from being too appealing to kids.

In addition to the ban, later this year on October 1st, warning labels will be required on edibles which say THC and have an exclamation point above the letters in a triangle.

Proponents claim that the animal and fruit shapes mimic popular children’s candies making them an indistinguishable temptation for children. However, others have argued that it is no different from character shaped vitamins or animal gummy antacids: children need to be monitored by parents for all these things and that cannot necessarily be regulated by legislation.

A Brave New World

Edibles have risen in popularity since legalization for multiple reasons. They are convenient; they are novel; they are easy to consume for those who can’t or don’t like smoking; they last longer and therefore provide longer relief for those medicating; and most importantly they are discreet - in a city that bans public pot consumption this may be the biggest factor driving their popularity.

Because Colorado has yet to allow and create guidelines for public consumption, like smoking bars or restricted common areas, tourists who visit get caught in a Catch-22. They can legally enjoy marijuana on their visit but unless they stay in a private residence or a pot friendly inn, there really isn’t any place to smoke.

Instead of smoking, many of them eat and the results vary. Dosing is not well understood and does not have an immediate effect so there has been a risk of people eating too much, too soon and having a very different experience than what they expected.

What are the Numbers?

The types of marijuana emergencies are divided into three categories, accidents related to consuming, like a car accident where the driver is high; exacerbation of underlying issues, like depression or anxiety; and third, acute overdose, which is very rare and manifests as acute anxiety.

ER visits among tourists to Colorado are definitely up: from 70 per 10,000 visits in 2012 to 101 per 10,000 visits in 2014, a 44% increase.

Marijuana related calls to poison control doubled after legalization, from 109 in 2012 to 227 in 2015. Of those calls, about one fifth involved children. Poison control does not track outcomes in these cases, just the reports; however the data indicates that the incidents are rarely serious. Children’s Hospital in Aurora reported 19 children admitted for consuming marijuana edibles between 2009 and 2014.

While the increase is startling, the actual numbers don’t seem that high and the outcomes are rarely severe on their own; as one doctor said, usually the patient just needs time and a comfortable space. Many theorize that as the novelty of legalization wears off and spreads to other states, these numbers will naturally level out.

Despite the benign nature of the high majority of these marijuana emergencies, when the outcome is bad it’s really bad. In 2014, a 19 year old student died after jumping off a balcony after he ate 6 times the recommended serving size of an edible cookie, and the autopsy found marijuana intoxication to be a factor. This incident, while very unusual, created a great deal of concern about how edibles are consumed.

What You Need to Know about Edibles

The recommended serving size for edible marijuana is 10mg of THC. Edibles in a 100mg package, like a candy bar or a container of gummies is actually 10 serving sizes, so while a handful of candies is tempting, one should do the trick. Another component to consider is time. Most consumers will not feel the effect of an edible until 60-90 minutes after taking it, so be patient and don’t take more before you feel the effect of the first dose.

What about the Children?

Marijuana is for adult use only so it naturally makes sense to regulate the packaging and labeling to keep it out of kids’ hands. Current package requirements include containers that are child proof and extensively labelled with the content and serving sizes. Additionally, edibles must be in clear and easy to use servings. Campaigns like “Good to Know” educate consumers and dispensary employees about recommended serving sizes and use. In fact, the packaging rules already in place have made people ask what the point of further restricting product really is, especially when the numbers on children overdosing is so low.

The marijuana industry evolves quickly and while new rules about shapes and packages can be cumbersome, they haven’t been prohibitive. Edible makers are adjusting their designs, recipes and packaging to accommodate the new and ever-changing rules. However, these changes may eventually become a barrier for businesses leading to a very real question, is it possible to overregulate the marijuana industry? As the business of legal pot develops, we will see.