Colorado’s John Hickenlooper on Thursday became the third state governor in a week to raise serious concerns about marijuana edibles.
“Back in the day, candy cigarettes desensitized kids to the dangers of tobacco – and today, pot-infused gummy bears send the wrong message to our kids about marijuana,” he said in his annual State of the State speech. “Let’s ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to make sure that edibles do not so closely resemble the same products kids can find in the candy aisle.”
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, campaigned against legalization when it was on the state’s ballot in 2012 but has since said he’s been pleased with how things have turned out. Coloradans have “a lot to be proud of” in how the law has been implemented, he said in Thursday’s speech.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), in his own State of the State address last week, called on the legislature to enact marijuana legalization but prohibit edibles, at least initially. Vermont should “take a hard lesson learned from other states and ban the sale of edibles until other states figure out how to do it right,” he said.
And Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said in a radio interview on Tuesday that “the edibles issue is a really big deal. They’re pretty much everywhere. A lot of people who are ingesting them are being negatively affected by them.” Referring to Colorado, he said edibles are leading to “ER admissions, automobile accidents, all sorts of stuff.”
Speaking about cannabis cookies, Baker said, “Now is that really directed as somebody who is over the age of 21 or is that directed at somebody who’s, like, 12? That’s exactly my problem with all this. We are heading right down the Joe Camel path on this.”
Following New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s much-publicized bad trip in a Colorado hotel room after chowing down a cannabis candy bar, edibles have become a sticking point for legalization opponents. In response, the cannabis industry and reform advocates have made a concerted effort to educate consumers about how to have a safe and enjoyable time.
The Marijuana Policy Project, for example, launched a website imploring novice consumers to “start low and go slow,” meaning that they should initially ingest a very small dose and then wait at least two hours before eating more.
While admitting that concerns about kids getting their hands on marijuana edibles are legitimate, legalization advocates say outright bans are not a solution.
“As a mom I can absolutely understand the concern about accidental ingestion,” Shaleen Title, a co-drafter of a legalization initiative that’s likely to appear on this November’s Massachusetts ballot, told Marijuana.com. “That’s why we work so hard for smart regulations, especially concerning packaging and labeling. Many people prefer edibles and it’s better for them to buy them in a regulated facility than to go out to an illegal dealer and not know what they are getting. We don’t ban laundry detergent pods and energy drinks – we pass regulations and make sure parents take reasonable precautions.”
Other advocates pointed out that edibles are particularly important for medical cannabis patients who cannot ingest the drug by smoking it.
“Why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to expect a lung cancer patient to inhale their medicine is beyond me,” Maine State Rep. Diane Russell, who has sponsored legalization legislation, told Marijuana.com. “This is about ensuring very sick Americans can safely consume their medicine.”
To date all four states that have ended marijuana prohibition allow for edibles, as do the proposed legalization initiatives likely to appear on ballots in five states this November. But the concerns raised by three governors this week signal that the issue is likely to continue to be a contentious one as the national debate on marijuana shifts from whether to legalize cannabis to how it should be regulated after the end of prohibition.