No intelligent proponent of marijuana legalization would argue against the necessity for warning labels on edibles. But as more states opt for legalization, a predictable cry for stricter warning labels on edibles has been issued in states where cannabis has been legalized. While many of these proposals come from educated members of the community aiming for clarity, uniformity, and order, others are obviously built on bad information and motivated by fear.
Fear and Exploitation Motivating Dissuasive Warning Labels
A paper recently published as part of the eScholarship Initiative of California compared the forthcoming marijuana industry to the tobacco industry in its heyday. The paper argues that the proposed status quo for warning labels in California will leave too much room for error since it will be based on warning labels similar to those used for alcoholic beverages. Instead, the authors of the paper posit that marijuana warning labels should attempt to actively discourage potential customers from imbibing the contents, pointing out the health hazards that come from cannabis use.
One of the glaring problems with this assessment is that the health hazards stemming from marijuana use are heavily debatable. With the federal government still stifling proper research into the health hazards or benefits of marijuana, building any argument on the case of marijuana being hazardous to one’s health elicits a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude. This is an especially dangerous perspective to take considering recent research into marijuana use, though minimal, has leaned overwhelmingly toward marijuana offering medicinal benefits, or so the actions of the California Medical Association would have us believe.
When exploiting uneducated fears to paint marijuana as the green plague, prohibitionists may do better to consider this quote from the Associated Press regarding the need for warning labels on cannabis products: “Critics say evidence of harm is weak, but while advocates agree that more research is needed, they say erring on the side of caution makes sense.” Caution is understandable. Fabricated health risks are not.
Marijuana Advocates Agree with the Necessity for Warning Labels
The staunchest of marijuana advocates will readily offer that warning labels used to identify cannabis-infused edibles are essential. Responsible cannabis proponents are obligated to be somewhat open in their approach to warning labels to further reinforce the spirit of “erring on the side of caution.” So far, the marijuana industry has yet to display the behavior of profit-hungry weed barons, selling kids on cannabis in the name of greed. When Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper instituted House Bill 1366 in 2014, there was no outrage from the marijuana community. Supporters of legalization stand to benefit from properly labelled edibles just as much as anyone. As evidenced by the profits made from the sale of marijuana-based products in Colorado and Oregon, the marijuana industry is doing fine without targeting children with their marketing campaigns.
Warning Labels Can’t Parent Your Children
In Colorado, Sen. John Singer argues that current warning labels are insufficient in deterring children from ingesting marijuana edibles. Singer explained, “The original label looked a lot like the (Colorado) state seal. That doesn’t look like a warning label unless you’re afraid of the state of Colorado.” Singer’s concerns are echoed in a statement by Dr. Robert Hendrickson of the Oregon Poison Center. Hendrickson chided current marijuana packaging for edibles, stating “You are putting a recreational drug, a euphoric drug, into a form that is uniquely attractive to children.” Hendrickson’s statement does not indicate that 2014 found the Oregon Poison Center responding to 72 times more cases of children ingesting household cleaner than marijuana products. Household cleaners often use the skull-and-crossbones as their warning label which throws the effectiveness of more drastic warning labels as a deterrent to children into question. Is there actually any warning label design that a child could understand if the skull-and-crossbones doesn’t work?
But again, very few people in the marijuana industry will argue against the necessity for clear warning labels on marijuana products but a concealed weapon in a home with children is way more likely than any marijuana edible to result in hospitalization or death. While labels are a necessary and welcome part of marijuana product packaging, they will not necessarily deter an unattended child near an improperly stored stash. This responsibility does not fall on the marijuana industry. It’s time that we quit blaming parental oversights on an imaginary defect in marijuana warning labels.
UPDATE: Labels Still Important as the Cannabis Industry Matures
While marijuana labels continue to receive occasional updates in legal states, the emphasis remains on protecting children. The use of packaging that can be deemed attractive to children has been banned, including using cartoon mascots or products that mimic established brands (such as candy brands that a child would find not only enticing but familiar). This mirrors the industry’s move away from the stereotypes of the past (ie. “stoner” culture) into packaging and marketing that emulates the tasteful designs seen in industries ranging from cosmetics to foods.