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What are the packaging laws for cannabis products around the country? And how do they affect my kids?

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It’s said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But when it comes to cannabis edibles, safety advocates would prefer if manufacturers didn’t create labels that so closely mimic popular snack products.

The concern is children mistaking cannabis edibles for snacks like Sour Patch Kids, Doritos, Oreos, and more. The attorney general of New York, Letitia James, recently tweeted out an image of several cannabis products that closely resemble a variety of popular treats. 

“New York parents should be on the alert for deceptive cannabis products that look like standard snacks and candy but contain dangerously high concentrations of THC,” she tweeted on Oct. 26. “Any New Yorker that has encountered these products should contact my office immediately.”

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James cited a concern for child safety in her remarks.

“These products are especially dangerous for our children,” she tweeted. “We’ve seen an increase in accidental overdoses among children nationwide, and it’s vital we do everything to protect our children.”

The number of children younger than 12 who have ingested edibles at home went from 132 in 2016 to almost 2,500 in 2020, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

It’s unlikely people will intentionally hand out cannabis edibles to children, as they are very expensive. But the overwhelming majority of cases involve accidental ingestion or confusing edibles with popular snack products. 

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That confusion isn’t as much of a concern in California, where strict labeling laws prevent cannabis manufacturers from packaging products in a manner that appeals to children. California also prohibits the manufacturing of edibles that mimic popular snacks, said Kieran Ringgenberg, managing partner at Ringgenberg Law Firm, an Oakland-based firm that helps cannabis companies with compliance. 

“In California, it’s really not allowed,” he said. “There’s a strict prohibition on anything appealing to kids. If you see such a thing around, it’s not legal.”

He cites section 15040 of the state’s statutes, codes and regulations for advertising placement. 

The decree clearly states that cannabis manufacturers shall not use any images that are attractive to children, cartoons or any likeness to images, characters or phrases that are popularly used to advertise to children. 

The regulation also forbids the imitation of candy packaging or labeling. It even goes as far as to restrict the use of the term “candy” or “candies” and variant spellings, like “kandy” or “kandeez.”

This leads to a very conservative environment in the state when it comes to packaging edibles, Ringgenberg said.

“A distributor will tell the manufacturer ‘I can’t sell this’ and retail stores will say ‘I can’t take that,’” he said. “There’s a general trend on what’s legal in the market and people stay away from that line. There’s so much to risk if you’re wrong.”

There’s also the chance of copyright infringement, he said. 

In May, Mars Inc’s Wm Wrigley Jr. Co. filed lawsuits in Chicago and California federal courts against multiple sellers of cannabis products. The suit alleges the manufacturers imitate the brand’s packaging, infringing on the trademarks of Skittles, Life Savers and Starburst.

In addition to protecting intellectual property, there’s also a concerted effort to protect children. 

AboutKidsHealth, a health education resource approved by healthcare providers at The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, said accidental ingestion is serious. Children who consume cannabis can experience mild to severe symptoms ranging from vomiting, agitation and confusion. In extreme cases, it can trigger seizures or even a coma.  

One of the biggest concerns revolves around dosage.  Children are much smaller than adults, so the amount of THC per pound of body weight is much larger than the same amount would be in an adult. While there are virtually no cases of death caused by cannabis overdose, This can exacerbate uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms. 

RELATED: How dangerous are cannabis edibles for children?

AboutKidsHealth offers some suggestions for preventing accidental ingestion. 

They recommend storing all cannabis products in a locked box or container, and away from the regular food and drinks. Storing the edibles up high, away from a child’s reach, is another good safety tactic. 

Always purchase your cannabis products from an authorized seller, they added.

Lastly, AboutKidsHealth reminds parents that there may be a one- or two-hour delay before a child shows any symptoms. The advocacy group urges parents to take their children to the nearest emergency room if they ingest cannabis, even if they don’t show any symptoms. 

 

Jordan Guinn is a published journalist with bylines in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Stockton Record and more. He’s covered everything from agriculture, to violent crime to water.