Flavored cannabis criticized in New York for targeting children

Joints and gummies are sold in New York on World Weed Day, April 20, 2022.

When New York’s first licensed recreational marijuana dispensary opened last month, the chief of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Management, Chris Alexander, proudly held a can of watermelon-flavored gummy bears over the crowd.

Outside the Manhattan store, he displayed another purchase — a jar of dried buds of a cannabis strain called Banana Runtz, which some aficionados say has hints of “fresh, fruity banana and sour candy.”

Inside the store, run by the nonprofit Housing Works, are shelves full of vape cartridges hinting at flavors of pineapple, grapefruit, and grain milk written in rainbow bubble letterpress.

For decades, health advocates have blamed the tobacco industry for marketing harmful nicotine products to children, leading more cities and states like New York to ban flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Now, as cannabis stores are proliferating across the country, the same concerns are growing about the packaging and marketing of flavored cannabis, which critics say could tempt children to buy products labeled “Mad Mango,” “Laud Lemon,” and ” Peach Dream” to eat.

“We should learn from the nicotine space, and I would definitely advocate turning similar concerns to cannabis products in terms of their appeal to adolescents,” said Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, who has written extensively about the rise at Marijuana use among adolescents.

“Now when you walk through a cannabis dispensary,” she said, “it’s almost absurd how youth-oriented a lot of the packaging and products are.”

Flavored cannabis gummies on display in a display case at the Housing Works Cannabis Co.

Keyes added that public health policymakers — and researchers like them — are trying to keep up with an industry and market that is rapidly expanding and evolving.

New York, which legalized recreational marijuana in March 2021, bans marketing and advertising “intended in any way to appeal to children or other minors.”

But New York’s State Office of Cannabis Management has yet to officially issue labeling, packaging, and advertising rules that could ban cartoons and neon colors, as well as the depiction of food, candy, soda, beverage, cookies, or cereal on packaging – all of which, so the agency could attract people under the age of 21.

“Consumers need to be aware – parents need to be aware – if they see product that looks like other products commonly marketed to children, it is an illegal market product,” said Lyla Hunt, assistant director of public health and Campaigns at OCM.

State officials are hoping products bought from licensed pharmacies will help.

“We can regulate until we’re blue in the face. But the truth is, it’s a partnership between a compliant industry, strong regulations that are robust in their protections for young people, and then parents too,” Hunt said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday (local time) announced the upcoming opening of the state’s second legal dispensary, which will be built in Manhattan’s West Village. The new venture, dubbed Smacked, will open as a pop-up next week before opening a permanent location.

Under state law, a minor found possessing marijuana would face a civil penalty of no more than US$50 (NZ$78). Licensed cannabis dealers who sell to minors face fines and the loss of their licenses, but no jail time.

Science has long demonstrated the addictive nature of nicotine and the health problems associated with smoking tobacco, including cancer and emphysema.

Less understood are the health effects of vaping, especially in children whose bodies and internal organs are not yet fully developed.

Cannabis vaping products are on display at Housing Works, New York's first legal cannabis dispensary.

While tobacco cigarette smoking among teenagers and young adults has declined, use of e-cigarettes and e-cigarettes has increased.

A handful of states — California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island — have bans on most flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and electronic cigarettes. Similar bans are in place in a growing number of cities, including New York City.

But those rules need to be expanded to include marijuana, said Linda Richter of the Partnership to End Addiction, who says the issue has yet to be addressed comprehensively.

“There’s more control over the tobacco industry and very, very little in terms of rules, regulations, control and restrictions when it comes to the cannabis industry,” she said.

Due to the relatively recent development of the legalized industry, she added, states have yet to merge rules into a single national standard. States often turn to the federal government to set these standards, but marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

“That’s a real issue where you don’t have the weight of the federal government in terms of packaging and marketing standards” to set parameters to avoid appealing marketing to young people, Richter said.

Anti-smoking groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, have long railed against the tobacco industry for its marketing, such as B. Using cartoon characters to help market their products. In recent years they have campaigned against flavored nicotine products, including those in vapor form.

But so far, such groups have not targeted the marijuana industry.

A study published earlier this month documented the precipitous rise in poisoning among young children, particularly toddlers, who accidentally ate marijuana-laced treats.

The rise in cases coincides with the rise in the number of states allowing the use of marijuana for medicine or recreation. Medical use of cannabis is currently legal in 37 US states, while 21 states allow recreational use.