Oregon regulators are seeking to make edible marijuana products half as strong as what is being sold in Colorado and Washington in order to protect both inexperienced users and preschoolers who accidentally get ahold of their parents’ cannabis-infused treats.
“We wrestled with this for quite a bit, trying to figure out what the right answer is,” said Michael Tynan, a policy officer at the Oregon Health Authority. “We are not an economic agency. We are the public health division. The Legislature gave us the responsibility to protect public health. That is the goal and the lens that my bosses and my colleagues are going to apply to this.”
Oregon took what happened in Colorado as a cautionary tale as many first-time cannabis consumers delivered alarming anecdotes regarding their experiences with edible marijuana. Furthermore, cannabis-related calls to poison centers increased after legalization in both states.
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Oregon’s proposed limits are half of the THC limits imposed on both Colorado and Washington, which are 10 milligrams for a single serving and 100 milligrams for a whole package. THC is the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis.
For example, chocolate bars sold in Oregon for recreational use would be packaged in single servings of 5 milligrams. The serving size is marked on the bar itself to avoid confusion. The whole bar should not have more than 50 milligrams of THC, which is enough for 10 servings. For products like ice cream or drinks that can’t easily be marked, they will be limited to a total of two servings or 10 milligrams of THC only.
Higher limits are intended to be sold for medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.
When it comes to packaging, all three states prohibits labeling that looks appealing to kids, such as those featuring cartoons and superheroes. They also require marijuana goods to be sold in child-resistant containers. Oregon health authorities are also planning to have a “universal symbol” to signal that a product contains cannabis.
State health officials are expected to finalize rules for serving sizes come summer.
Several marijuana advocates feel that lowering the potency of marijuana edibles in Oregon can threaten the livelihoods of those working within the sector, like bakers and chocolatiers. According to them, customers are not going to be interested in buying weaker treats. They also think that this won’t properly address the problem of children accidentally ingesting marijuana.
“I mean, a lot of this is really just proper parenting,” said John Bayes, owner of medical cannabis business Green Bodhi.
On the other hand, those who agree with the move feel that this isn’t enough to protect children.
“You are putting a recreational drug, a euphoric drug, into a form that is uniquely attractive to children,” said Dr. Robert Hendrickson of the Oregon Poison Center. Last year, the facility has received 25 calls associated with children under 6 ingesting marijuana, up from only 11 in 2014. Still, the numbers are low compared to the 1,800 calls they received in 2014 regarding children accidentally drinking household cleaners.
Since it takes some time for edibles to take effect after ingestion, there’s a danger that kids won’t show restraint once they get ahold of a cannabis product.
“From a child’s standpoint, if they have it and no one catches them, they aren’t going to stop with just one,” said Dr. Sam Wang, a pediatric toxicologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Edible makers are also worried that the proposed limits will turn off consumers who are looking for alternatives to cannabis smoking and dabbing, especially if they want something more potent.
“A mother of two who comes home to a couple kids and has to make dinner and wants to relax a little bit might need 25 kilograms,” said Daniel Stoops, owner of Danodan Grassworks that makes cannabis-infused caramels using organic ingredients. “That might be her jam.”
Stoops said that based on Oregon’s proposal, he’ll end up putting 10 5-milligram caramels in a package and sell them for between $15 and $30.
“It’s a real penalty to someone who has a higher tolerance and needs a few more milligrams,” he said.
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