No Child’s Play For Cannabis Containers

Nevada state legislators are leading the charge on keeping marijuana away from kids through difficult-to-open packaging.

With great flower comes great responsibility.

All cannabis enthusiasts know that if you keep marijuana around the house, it’s your job to ensure it never reaches the hands of children or the paws of pets. The law tends to deal more with the consequences of failing to keep your stash away from children. For instance, in February, a father in Massachusetts was charged with four felony counts of reckless endangerment of a child after his brood consumed some pot brownies he’d left out.   

Nevada, however, has taken the additional step of requiring all dispensaries to sell cannabis in child-proof packaging. Like some prescription medication bottles, the packaging employed by Nevada dispensaries can be downright tricky — even for adults. Currently, the law requires all medical cannabis to be sold in child-resistant packaging, that products in liquid or solid form be packaged in plastic at least four millimeters thick, that all packaging be heat-sealed, and that liquid products be sealed “with a metal crown cork-style cap.”

Jokes about stoners too high to figure out how to open their own medicine aside, these regulations are notable for their specificity and strictness. In contrast, California law is more general. San Francisco’s Department of Public Health requires only that packaging be child-resistant and “unattractive to children.”

As every facet of the cannabis industry in California undergoes reevaluation and expansion in the wake of Proposition 64, one may wonder if legal recreational marijuana will usher in a new wave of regulations focused on preventing kids from inadvertently (or intentionally) gaining access to weed.

In this regard, Nevada is once again spearheading the issue.

Senate Bill 344, introduced in March by Silver State Sen. Patricia Farley, seeks to ban all cannabis edibles that resemble candy, fruit, cartoon characters, or balloons. Furthermore, it curtails any advertising tactics that might appeal to kids and requires that cookies and brownies be sold in non-transparent packaging to avoid tempting young tastebuds.

“Tobacco and alcohol and prescription medication do not come in the form of candy, they’re not packaged that way or sold in edibles,” Farley told a Nevada Senate committee on March 29. “I think we need to draw a stricter line in the sand, because now we’re taking marijuana and trying to regulate it like alcohol and tobacco.”

The bill has been met with some hefty backlash. The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that medical marijuana advocate Cindy Brown expressed concern to the committee that cannabis manufacturers were being held to a higher standard than the alcohol and gaming industries, both of which employ cartoons and mascots in their marketing efforts.

“Let us have the mascots. What happened to personal responsibility of parents? We keep trying to over-regulate people,” Brown said.

Earlier this year, SF Weekly’s Joe Kukura reported on the steps California was taking to update its child-proof packaging with regard to cannabis. In his article, he highlighted the CR-Pak from Colorado’s Tread Global, “a child-resistant tube customized to the size of the most common vape pens and cannabis products.” Other companies are also pursuing innovations with zipper bags and other mechanisms.

These businesses clearly see a current trend and future demand for packaging and design that provides peace of mind to any adult storing marijuana in the proximity of kids. Kukura also quoted Tread’s founder, Jeremiah Buck, who believes child-proof cannabis packaging may “roll over to the pharmaceutical industry” in the near future.

This last point underlies what may be the ultimate irony in the fervor to keep marijuana away from children: Why are we so focused on making sure kids can’t access cannabis while bottles of far more dangerous things like Oxycontin, Klonopin, and Adderall are regularly kept on bedside tables? If you haven’t heard, it’s not a cannabis epidemic that’s underway in the United States. Opioids claimed more than 33,000 lives in 2015 alone.

Just last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price announced that the federal government will provide $485 million in grant money to combat the current opioid crisis. While the details of this hefty financial commitment are ripe with roadblocks and stipulations, the underlying sentiment is clear. After all, these funds come on the heels of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016, a bill The New York Times called “the most sweeping drug legislation in years.”

While no one wants to see a child unintentionally subjected to the effects of THC, one has to wonder if debates over cartoon characters and balloons are really where our focus should lie.

Certainly there are safety measures to consider, especially now that cannabis will likely soon be more widespread in places like Nevada and California than ever before. In addition, folks who have previously steered clear of marijuana may feel comfortable exploring the substance now that it’s legal, and ensuring that children living in these households can’t swipe a brownie or suck on a lollipop laced with pot is an issue worth pursuing.

Perhaps it is time to worry less about whether Bugs Bunny is on a glass jar and worry more about the medicine we already have.

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