Legal marijuana’s eternal existential struggle will be with kids. The laudable goal of protecting our nation’s youth from drugs—including cannabis, which, even the most staunch advocate of legalization must admit, isn’t something adolescents should be using recreationally—is one of the chief arguments against ending cannabis prohibition, and is also frequently deployed whenever restrictions on legal marijuana products and marketing are suggested.
But how strict is too strict? This issue is playing out in Nevada now, where a ban on all candy-like edibles—gummies, chocolates, and any other recognizable treat with added sugar as well as cannabis—appears to have support in the state Legislature.
Senate Bill 344 would ban edible marijuana products with added sugar, with an exception for baked goods like cookies, brownies, and (presumably) baked alaska. It would ban outright the use of “cartoon characters, mascots, action figures, balloons, fruit or toys” on labeling, and it also outlaws cannabis products “modeled after a brand of products primarily consumed by children, such as gummy bears or Teddy Grahams,” according to the Reno-Gazette Journal.
Bill sponsor Sen. Patricia Farley of Las Vegas told the paper that these prohibitions are “only the start.” Her goal is to outlaw all cannabis products that include sugar—including all edibles—and she also wants to ban cannabis products that use “primary colors that might appeal to youth.”
Which, since both youth and adults tend to be drawn towards sweet-tasting products in bright packaging, would lead to a near-total revamp of the edibles industry in Nevada. (Bland, Soylent-like cannabis sludge, anyone?)
Nevada state lawmakers are scheduled to discuss and possibly amend the bill in an April 12 work session. Other possible future regulations include opaque packaging for all cannabis edibles, and a limit on the amount of THC allowed in each edible.
Joe Pollock, a deputy administrator for the Nevada Department of Health, which regulates cannabis products, told the newspaper that his agency is pushing for a limit of 25 milligrams of THC per edible serving. (A standard dose for first-timers, and many people who consume cannabis regularly, is 10 milligrams. For comparison’s sake, there are products on the market that contain several hundred milligrams, and some “super-strength” edibles that boast of 1,000 milligrams.)
There is an argument to be made here. In other states, including states where cannabis is still illegal, lollipops, gummy worms, and other candies laden with marijuana are popping up in schools. Though police have been exaggerating about the threat, it’s gained some public attention–and in nearly every case, the product was made legally in a legal state.
The Nevada cannabis industry, of course, is not feeling it. Both the state Libertarian Party and some medical-marijuana advocates argue that alcohol and gambling—the literal lifebloods of the Las Vegas economy, without which the city would be a barren stretch of desert—are allowed to use bright colors and mascots.
But some industry leaders have been agitating against the bill in a way that’s not impressing lawmakers. Some cannabis industry figures want to be able to continue to use cartoons on their labeling and produce cannabis in familiar candy-like shapes like gummy worms, which one Republican lawmaker called “disgusting.”
“This is about greed over child safety,” fumed Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, according to the paper.
Or is it? While keeping cannabis away from kids is a commendable goal—and has precedent; banning cigarette companies from using cute cartoons like Joe Camel in advertising may have helped reduce tobacco consumption in the United States—this is at least somewhat a solution in search of a problem.
As data from every state to legalize cannabis has shown, the rate of marijuana use among teens has not increased post-legalization. Meanwhile, rates of childhood obesity, buoyed in part by the legal over-consumption of sugary products marketed to kids, upon which there are almost no restrictions, have tripled since the 1970s.
And obesity, which leads to health complications like diabetes and heart disease as well as missed days of school and work, is absolutely and undoubtedly a killer. Many of the top ten causes of death in the United States—including heart disease, stroke, diabetes—have causes in common that stem from poor diet and excessive weight.
If Farley or Roberson or Nevada or anyone else really wanted to save the children via government prohibition, they would go after sugar. But as we all know, after decades of indoctrination, from Nixon through to Just Say No, marijuana is a much easier target.
According to the newspaper, one concerned member of the public, a registered ER nurse, asked for the edible restrictions to be applied to another extremely popular, often mindbending product that has a track record of “accidentally” killing people: pharmaceuticals. Her modest proposal was met with crickets.
So as usual, we’ll go after the new devil in town, rather than the one lurking right now in our pantries, refrigerators, and in our bodies.