Washington state’s nascent legal-pot industry — out of its infancy and now into its rambunctious toddler years — nearly had its growth stunted this fall by a preliminary regulatory judgment that would have, essentially, snatched away much of its cannabis-infused candies and some of its baked goods.
However, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board last week wisely walked back its threat from early in the fall to outlaw certain overly cheery packaged edibles, such as hard candy, fruit chews and brightly sprinkled chocolates. Instead of a blanket ban, the board plans to implement requirements that manufacturers tone down the packaging’s bright colors and alter the product’s often uncanny resemblance to regular candy.
Though edibles account for only 9 percent of the legal-pot market in the state, industry groups say it is growing in popularity among recreational marijuana users. In Colorado, the first state to legalize marijuana, edibles now make up about 45 percent of total cannabis sales.
So, outright banning edibles would’ve dealt a huge blow to a legal industry. But the WSLCB, which itself is still in the early days of regulating this young industry, was right to review how edibles are packaged. After all, state law prohibits marijuana products “especially appealing to children.” And figures from the Washington Poison Control Center showed that, among children 5 and younger, cases of accidental exposure rose from 52 in 2016 to 82 in 2017.
It’s the responsibility of parents, of course, to keep pot-infused edibles away from children’s reach. They bear the ultimate responsibility. But edible manufacturers and sellers also needed to change the alluring, multicolored down the packaging.
The board’s new policy is reasonable — limiting the colors and shapes that makers use that hew too close to regular candy that can be found in grocery store aisles. It received a measure of bipartisan legislative support, too, as state Senators Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) and Ann Rivers (R-LaCenter) and House members Brandon Vick (R-Felida) and Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver) sent letters to the board cautioning restraint.
Industry groups, which called the initial decision for a ban “arbitrary and sudden,” have welcomed the less harsh response. Vicki Christopherson, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, told The Seattle Times that her members were “very pleased with the results” and will abide by the new guidelines when they are released in January. One edible manufacturer told the paper that the original restrictions would have put her out of business, since 84 percent of her products are candy-related.
In an industry known for its libertarian bent, edible makers seem surprisingly compliant with the compromise and accepting of a level of regulation.
Pot-infused gummy bears, for instance, will have to be made in more muted tones than the multicolored pieces that currently are sold — almost indistinguishable from regular gummies. The only “candy” so far still on the WSLCB’s hit list is cotton candy, according to the board’s licensing policy and compliance manager.
As much as some might still disapprove of legal pot, it is, in fact, a legal business, under the same regulatory umbrella as alcohol. Since legal pot was approved by voters in November 2012, youths use of marijuana did not show a noticeable increase, according to a 2017 report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Edibles seem a budding sector of the legal marijuana industry, but they do need to be safeguarded with appropriate packaging. Regardless of the “dulled” colors of the contents, adults using the product must make sure the products are stored safely. A recent review of the National Poison Data System found that cannabis-related calls stemming from accidental exposure by children and pets, such as dogs, increased by 30.3 percent in decriminalized states.
Making pot-infused candy look less like real candy with muted hues hopefully will curb accidental ingestion by children. As for canines, which have a limited color range, well, any dog owner will tell you it’s dangerous to leave any food, pot-infused or otherwise, on the counter when Fido has the munchies.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis.