Saturday, January 25, 2020
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What attracts kids to marijuana-laced foods?

The Maryland General Assembly passed the law that made it legal to sell marijuana under certain circumstances on the last day of the 2014 session. Many states have done this, in part, to turn the attention of law enforcement toward more pressing matters.

“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” Maryland quoted then-Gov Martin O’Malley as saying in a statement. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”

This year, there’s some concern over the lack of diversity among businesses that have been granted licenses to distribute medical marijuana.

In Washington state, they have different problems, though. Kids, it seems, aren’t really attracted to grass: it smells bad, it’s dried up, it doesn’t look very appealing, you know. But when you put the stuff in other food, like brownies or cookies, they go for it in a growing trend, according to a new report commissioned by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Some critics argue that the FDA is more concerned about generating a profit in a businesses-friendly climate than it is about protecting kids. These folks—inaccurately, I think—say states are falling right in line with the for-profit business model and not being as diligent as they need to be in protecting kids from unsafe marijuana use. On the other hand, efforts to curb tobacco use among kids have worked very slowly, so why should this be any different?

CannaMED Pharmaceuticals in Wicomico County, Maryland, has a $1 million, 47,000-square-foot facility where it plans to grow medical marijuana. The company also plans to set aside space for visiting scientists to do research, as well as devoting millions of dollars in future revenue to university research. They don’t have a license yet, but they’re working on it, writes Daniel Leaderman in the Daily Record.

I have an idea for that research: How do you keep medical products out of the hands of kids who don’t require the drugs?

Here’s a press release about research now under way at the University of Washington to attempt to determine, using science, why kids go for the cannabis-laced edibles. I don’t think the new research tells us anything we haven’t known for a long time, but the UW Law School’s point in releasing the report is that kids getting a hold of marijuana is a growing problem and we need, perhaps, a little reminder about holding down the fort.

When Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, a primary concern was how to ensure it was kept out of the reach of children.

While skunky-smelling buds of dried marijuana are not likely to appeal to children, cannabis-infused edibles such as brownies, cookies and candies could. And with edibles making up a sizable and growing segment of the pot market, states are grappling with how to regulate those products to most effectively protect children.

A new report from the University of Washington School of Law’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project furthers those efforts by identifying the factors that make food attractive to children. Commissioned by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, the report involved looking at research on what physical elements of food appeal to children and the role that marketing and branding play.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Color is a key factor in children’s food choices, with red, orange, yellow and green foods preferred
  • Food in novel shapes such as stars or animals is more appealing to children than food cut into slices or sticks
  • Children like foods that smell sweet, fruity or like candy
  • Taste, rather than smell, is a more useful deterrent for children
  • Odor alone is unlikely to deter children
  • Cartoon and other promotional characters powerfully influence children’s food preferences
  • Advertising influences food and beverage choices among children aged 2 to 11, but there is less evidence that teens are swayed by food advertising

Sam Méndez, executive director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project, said while the research focused on children’s food preferences generally, the findings are applicable to how children might approach cannabis-infused edibles.

“There is scant research of testing children with cannabis-infused edibles, and for good ethical reasons,” he said. “So we looked at research on regular food products—but the same factors that make particular foods appealing to children, such as taste, color and packaging, would likely also apply to edibles.”

The report also looked at marijuana cannabis packaging and labeling regulations in various states. Most states require edibles to be sold in child-resistant, opaque packaging. Washington introduced rules in 2014 prohibiting recreational marijuana cannabis stores from selling gummy bears, lollipops and cotton candy infused with cannabis, and also prohibits cannabis products that require cooking or baking.

Méndez said cannabis-infused edibles are sometimes packaged in less-regulated states to look like popular candy or food brands—for example, “Pot Tarts” that have the same cartoonish font and blue background as Kellogg’s well-known toaster pastries.

“In some states where there’s medical marijuana cannabis but not a strong hand in regulation, you get products that would be very attractive to children, and that’s seen as a hazard,” he said.

“We review all edible products and packaging to ensure they are not especially appealing to children,” said Liquor and Cannabis Board Director Rick Garza. “This new study will help further that important responsibility.”

The report, Méndez said, underscores the complex set of determinants that drives children’s food preferences.

“Of these factors we looked at, no one factor was clearly indicative of a danger to children,” he said. “So if you have a food that’s shaped as a bear, that doesn’t automatically make it attractive to kids, especially if it smells or tastes bad.

“It’s more of a multifactor test, and you need to factor in all of these things that can help give you an idea about whether a food could be more attractive to children.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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