In 2017, 16 million of the American adults who smoked or consumed cannabis were parents of young children. I’d wager that, with incremental legalization efforts, that number today is much higher. I know something about it: I’m one of those parents who didn’t partake just two years ago, but now I do—often, and with pride.
Cannabis helps me with migraines and the right strain can give a nice boost to my mental focus. I like a mellow indica for rainy weekends spent reading Harry Potter with my two elementary-aged kids. Weed in its many incarnations has added to my life and—though it would have been hard to imagine it just a few years ago—I’m a better-late-than-never convert.
I probably don’t have to convince you that I can be a weed smoker, while also an attentive, loving, and responsible parent. Some of that time I’m just (mildly) high, and that might make me even a little better at all those things.
Yes, weed’s become a fixture of my home life—one that I don’t hide from my children. In Southern California where we live, cannabis billboards pepper the freeways and legal dispensaries are practically a dime a dozen. I frequent a number of them (without my kids, of course) and have weed delivered to my home on occasion with my children present. You could say that they are aware of cannabis.
I care about my kids’ wellbeing and about my legal right to parent them. So of course I don’t want my kids eating one of my edibles, accidentally or otherwise. I absolutely don’t want them sucking on a pre-filled vape, or slipping a sublingual tab. And yet, I think child-resistant packaging for cannabis is a really bad idea. Let me explain.
Child-resistant (CR) packaging, in its current incarnation, is an environmental fiasco. Yes, throwaway products are part of contemporary capitalism—from food packaging to plastic water bottles and straws to single-use shopping bags to Keurig coffee pods, and on and on. Though some people are working hard within the confines of runaway capitalism to reduce it, wasteful packaging is still everywhere.
But the cannabis industry is the only one I can think of where the packaging vastly outweighs and outsizes the actual product. You can buy a gram of flower—and I have, many times—that occupies one sixteenth of the space of a heavy-duty glass jar or a child-resistant mylar bag. And why, I wonder, do we even need to child-proof flower? Raw cannabis can’t hurt anyone. And if someone underage is savvy and dexterous enough to figure out how to smoke their parents’ weed, they’re way past child-resistant packaging. With cannabis sales in North America projected at $47 billion by 2027, and with a growing sector of users as newbies, millions of annual sales will be in small quantities—with unfortunately big packaging.
A budtender recently told me that packaging for cannabis products sold in California dispensaries has increased fivefold in the last several years. With products like plastic straws and single-use shopping bags being phased out in many consumer markets around California, this trend toward over-packaging in cannabis is absolutely headed the wrong way.
Some part of the move toward more packaging has to do with branding, and some has to do with labeling requirements that adult-use regulations introduced. And some of it has to do with child-resistance. In fact, by January 2020, every orally-consumed product sold in a dispensary must come in primary packaging that is resealable and child-resistant. I would never argue against truly protecting children from harm—but this will lead to tremendous and unnecessary waste.
Let’s be real about it. Most of us don’t keep our products in their original packaging, especially if that packaging was a pain to get open in the first place. Take the infused gummies I bought recently. They could come in a simple cardboard box with a blister pack. Instead, the heavy-duty, hard-shell plastic box with a fancy-pants enclosure went to waste once I popped that first gummy. Most of the time I keep my cannabis in a locked stash container, like one of these 25 recommended by other weed-smoking parents, not in the CR packaging.
Worse, many of the materials currently used in cannabis packaging are not even curbside-recyclable. Plastic bags, for instance, need to be taken to particular drop-off sites, and mylar is effectively un-recyclable. If it’s not easily recycled by a consumer at home, it’s not likely to be recycled at all. Another sad fact that you may already know about: a significant portion of what goes in the recycling bin isn’t actually being recycled anymore because China has curtailed buying and processing our waste.
Some people in the cannabis space are advocating for hemp-based plastics in packaging. And if CR can be accomplished with hemp or other plant materials, that would surely be preferable, but any kind of packaging has an environmental footprint. Reducing usage is still hugely better for the environment.
Kids Can Get into Packaging
There are future aeronautics engineers among us who can almost certainly access some of the child packaging I’ve seen. I recently emptied the CR gummy box mentioned above and ran an experiment on my son. “Crack this code in five minutes and you can have an extra half-hour of screen time,” I told him. Then I watched as he puzzled his way to an open box.
Cannabis Isn’t the Devil’s Weed
Alcohol can cause seizures, coma, and death in young children. Nicotine poisoning from eating cigarettes (sounds disgusting, but it happens) can also harm smaller people. It’s incredibly sad, but true, that some kids die of these causes each year. Kids sometimes eat laundry and dishwasher pods—also toxic. But none of these comes in resealable, package-heavy, child-resistant form. Why? Probably because of almost a century of federal prohibition that stemmed from a racist, elitist smear campaign against the plant and continues in more subtler forms today. Reefer Madness. Devil’s Weed. That recent NYT bestselling book, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. You get the point.
And while young kids absolutely shouldn’t be consuming cannabis—unless for therapeutic reasons under a qualified provider—cannabis is not known to cause fatality, even in high doses. Anyone who’s honest about the science and the statistics can see that cannabis isn’t nearly as harmful as alcohol and tobacco for kids.
What Will Work Better
Reusable, locking containers are not foolproof because older kids can hunt down keys, but they’re a significant and environmentally-conscious first line of defense.
The second line of defense—which, I would argue, should actually come first—is talking to kids. Little kids can be told simple versions about what’s safe for them and what’s not. If we can talk about hot stoves and street safety, we can talk about cannabis, too. For my two kids, I’ve talked about how cannabis is medicine for some adults and something fun for others. For me, it’s both. But while it does a lot of good, it’s not right for developing brains like theirs. If they ate one of my edibles, they would feel sick and we might have to go to the hospital.
I’ve shown them everything I keep at home so that they know how to identify it if they’re at friends’ houses, too. “When you’re old enough,” I’ve told them, “I’ll help you figure out if it’s something you want to try.” Kids are smart enough to understand that some things are okay for adults (see examples above re: hot stoves and crossing streets), but not for kids. Let’s give them some credit.
It’s age dependent, and not accomplished all at once. By all means, keep cannabis locked up at home if you have toddlers. But also talk to them… and keep talking to them. Just like the conversations about alcohol, drugs, and how babies are made—the information you provide will grow in complexity and depth as they age.
In short, build the relationship so that kids feel comfortable coming to you with their questions and problems. Be honest and trustworthy so that they know they’re getting reliable information. Treat them like capable and intelligent people. No packaging solution can ever take the place of that.