Earlier this month, the medical journal Pediatrics published a new study analyzing reports of accidental child exposure to cannabis edibles from 2017 – 2022, finding that the number of young children accidentally ingesting cannabis in the United States has increased consistently and significantly over the past five years. According to the study, children, especially those under age five, are at particular risk as they may not be able to distinguish between copycat tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products and the well-known treats they resemble.
As we’ve written elsewhere, states impose strict restrictions on underage access to cannabis products in the licensed marketplace and generally prohibit marketing cannabis products to minors. The study’s findings emphasize the risks posed by copycat THC products and echo concerns raised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a 2022 consumer alert. The agency noted many “edible products are designed to mimic the appearance of well-known branded foods by using similar brand names, logos, or pictures on their packaging. These copycats are easily mistaken for popular, well-recognized foods that appeal to children.” As the FDA detailed, “accidental ingestion of these products can lead to serious adverse events, especially in children.”
In June 2022, more than 20 state attorneys general issued an open letter to congressional leaders calling for legislation that would regulate THC edibles that mimic the packaging and names of popular products. Representing states including Oregon and South Carolina, the state attorneys general noted the public safety risks posed by “counterfeit, unlicensed, unregulated, and untested THC edibles.”
As the state attorneys general noted, the unlicensed and illicit cannabis marketplace presents public health risks. Regulated cannabis businesses must meet strict requirements about where, when, and to whom state-legal cannabis can be sold. These requirements include avoiding marketing to underage users and ensuring packaging has appropriate childproofing. Failure to comply with state-level cannabis marketing requirements and regulations can be extremely costly for businesses, not only in terms of financial costs but also in terms of reputational risk. The illicit market doesn’t play by the same rules.