A chorus of experts are growing concerned about the prevalence of candy-flavored cannabis products and other flavors that appeal to children in states with legal cannabis. 

Part of the uproar was spurred when a New York official showed a watermelon-flavored cannabis edible product to the local media amid the state’s first days of adult-use cannabis sales, taking place earlier this month.

The Associated Press reports that pressure is mounting to address the way cannabis products allegedly target children, with several individuals chiming in with expertise in epidemiology and tobacco control research.

“We should learn from the nicotine space, and I certainly would advocate that we should place similar concern on cannabis products in terms of their appealability to youth,” said Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.

“If you go through a cannabis dispensary right now,” she said, “it’s almost absurd how youth oriented a lot of the packaging and the products are.” 

New York’s adult-use cannabis market recently kicked off. The state’s adult-use law bans marketing and advertising that is designed in any way that appeals to children or other minors.

But the state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) has not yet established defined rules on labeling, packaging, and advertising. What would a ban look like? Some concepts would ban images of food, candy, soda, drinks, cookies, or cereal on packaging. OCM officials believe these images could appeal to minors.

“Consumers need to be aware—parents need to be aware—if they see products that look like other products that are commonly marketed to kids, that’s an illicit market product,” said Lyla Hunt, OCM’s deputy director of public health and campaigns.

But when OCM Chief Chris Alexander showed a watermelon-flavored edible product to the media at New York’s first licensed adult-use cannabis store, people’s heads were rolling.

Per New York law, minors caught in possession of cannabis face a civil penalty of a maximum of $50. Licensed cannabis retailers who are caught selling to minors face fines and the potential loss of their licenses, but no jail time.

“When you’re talking about strawberry-cheesecake, or mango, or cookies-and-cream flavors, it’s very difficult to argue that those are for older adults,” said Dr. Pamela Ling, the director for the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California in San Francisco.

“Folks who consider themselves to be more like cannabis aficionados,” she said, “would say that smoking a flavored cannabis product is like putting ketchup on your steak.”

Haven’t We Heard this Before?

“Won’t somebody please think of the children?” Helen Lovejoy said on The Simpsons. Most adults store cannabis products in a place that’s out of reach from children and teenagers.

Similar bans on flavored tobacco products have taken place in numerous states over the last few years. The same hysteria has made its way into the cannabis industry.

California’s ban on flavored tobacco products took effect just weeks ago. The state’s particular ban went further to ban menthol cigarettes.

In Massachusetts in 2019, members of the state’s House of Representatives voted to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products. And that’s not all. The vaping products that remain legal will be subject to a whopping 75 excise tax. 

In Oregon in 2019 as well, Gov. Kate Brown moved to ban flavored vape cartridges. But then the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with Dyme Distribution, a cannabis company that’s suing the state over its ban on cannabis vaping products

Cigarette use has fallen out of favor among teens, but the use of e-cigarettes and vapes has risen. The new focus on regulation is falling upon cannabis products.

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