California’s cannabis companies are urging Governor Gavin Newsom to reject a recently passed measure aimed at dissuading children from accessing marijuana products. The businesses argue that the bill would result in the prohibition of the current branding of numerous established products while failing to address the persisting issue of the black market.
Last week, the California Assembly passed AB 1207, which effectively bans any packaging or labeling of marijuana products deemed “enticing to minors.” This bill defines such packaging as any promotional material featuring elements such as cartoons, toys, robots, fictional or real humans, animals, fruits, vegetables, or anything else that regulators believe might appeal to individuals under 21 years old.
Supporters of the bill, including youth advocates, argue that it is necessary in light of the recent uptick in cases of children accidentally consuming marijuana products, some of which have been designed to resemble popular snacks and candies.
According to Zack Kaldveer, spokesperson for the California Public Health Institute, there has been a notable increase in child poisonings and hospitalizations due to such accidental exposures. The California Poison Control reported a surge in annual cannabis exposures, with numbers rising from fewer than 200 in 2010 to more than 1,600 in 2020, with nearly one-half of these cases involving children.
However, the vast majority of cannabis advocacy groups are firmly against the bill, fearing it may inadvertently exacerbate public safety issues rather than mitigate them.
Should the bill be enacted, the California Marijuana Industry Association estimates that most marijuana businesses would be burdened with costs ranging from $100,000 to $300,000 to redesign their product labels. Furthermore, industry insiders argue that the bill’s scope is overly broad, targeting benign packaging of established brands while letting illicit operators off the hook.
Critics point out that the illicit market frequently mimics well-known cereal, candy and snack brands — a practice already prohibited in the legal cannabis industry — and that these products are regularly sold to children by black-market operators.
Newsom has already signed three drug policy-related bills during this legislative session without issuing any vetoes. One measure includes provisions that grant immunity to individuals in possession of personal-use quantities of controlled substances if they test them for contaminants such as fentanyl, report positive results to law enforcement and provide details about the source of the substance. The second measure empowers the State Water Board to investigate suspected illegal cannabis cultivators and participate in enforcement actions, while a third measure alters background check requirements for cannabis businesses.
The proposed change to the marijuana-product labeling rules in California could be of great concern to major industry actors such as Canopy Growth Corp. (NASDAQ: CGC) (TSX: WEED) since other jurisdictions could follow these extreme restrictions and enact them as well, compelling licensed companies to walk an even tighter rope in a bid to adhere to all the applicable laws in the jurisdictions in which they operate.
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