February 23

Motherlode: When marijuana looks like candy, kids need red flags

It’s time for parents to talk with their children about the risks of edible THC.

By KJ Dell-Antonia

This is not what I thought marijuana looked like.

I understand that I’m naive, and arguably poorly informed. But I don’t think I’m the only one. When I thought about legalized marijuana, whether for recreational or medicinal purposes, I was thinking about joints. When I talk to my children about marijuana use, I expected to talk about smoking – not candy bars, gummy drops and what look like Tootsie Rolls.

I understand that not every user of marijuana wants a product that has to be smoked. But marijuana as candy doesn’t just change how people use it. It changes how we need to talk about it, and how, as parents, we need to ask that new laws be designed to balance legal use (whatever that is in any given state) with protecting those who shouldn’t use it at all.

In “Snacks Laced with Marijuana Raise Concerns,” The New York Times’ Jack Healy described the ways Colorado, the first state to allow retail sales of marijuana, is trying to protect children from accidentally or intentionally taking a dose (or many doses) of THC: “It has ordered stores to sell them in child-resistant packages and bars labels designed to appeal to children. It requires manufacturers to list ingredients, serving sizes and expiration dates.”

States that have legalized medical marijuana (and Washington State, where retail sales are expected to begin later this year) have similar restrictions.

But it doesn’t take long to realize that both child-resistant and unappealing are open to a variety of interpretations.

Many products containing THC have labels that are far from off-putting. They vary in the prominence of their warnings about their content, and it’s easy to imagine a child happily opening them to try them out – they look good, they’re intended to taste good and they’re packaged like food, not medicine.

There’s not, as yet, any evidence that edible pot snacks pose any grave threat to children. Hospitals in Colorado (or states with less liberal legalization) are not reporting an influx of kids who’ve eaten marijuana chocolate bars or gummy bears; and doctors say that even high doses of THC pose few of the grave dangers of overdosing on alcohol or drinking household chemicals. That doesn’t make me, as a parent, any less concerned about the prospect of drugs in snack food guise.

Drugs as cookies mean I have to talk to my older children about drugs without the natural barriers created by the need to shoot them into veins, roll them up and smoke them, or ingest them in other complicated ways. Drugs as gummy bears mean I need to teach my younger children about eating candy found in unexpected places. Drugs as chocolate mean we’re going to need to talk to our children and teenagers, particularly our daughters, about the dangers of treats from unexpected or unfamiliar sources.

Parents can do these things. We’ve integrated alcohol into society, up to and including the sugary-sweet versions that are as appealing as soda pop. We’ll learn.

But it’s time to ask ourselves how we’re going to talk about marijuana as candy, and what help we can expect from its producers, as well as things like how broadly legalized pot fits into family life.

Is blister-pack packaging a reasonable thing to ask of an adult user in the name of hindering a toddler or giving a 7-year-old pause? Should the drug content warnings be more prominent than the words extolling the tastiness of the treat? Will 4:20 chocolate bars sit next to the ibuprofen and vodka in mini-bars? Will Colorado dads munch on them while Colorado moms open a beer, and will parents in other states soon follow?

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